The news this week is clearly mostly about Donald Trump’s impeachment and is a very American spectacle. Many people around the world think this is a very American political thing. They would be wrong. It’s actually a very ancient English thing, America’s framers simply borrowed the idea from the British Parliament. Impeachment is a system once used by the parliament of the United Kingdom put to trial and prosecute individuals, who are normally holders of public office, for high treason or other crimes and misdemeanours.
To be fair it isn’t something used in Britain anymore, but it was originally used from the 14th century as a way that parliament could hold a monarch’s ministers accountable for their public actions.
In 1376 in England, during the Good Parliament, so called because of its prosecution of corrupt ministers, charges were brought against the chamberlain, William, 4th Baron Latimer, the king’s mistress Alice Perrers and John Neville the steward of the royal household. However, much like the current situation in the USA, there is a baddie in this story too. John of Gaunt, fourth son of King Edward III and the effective ruler of England at the time undid most of the Good Parliament’s work in the following year.
Impeachment came to the fore in modern times after the American led invasion of Iraq where Weapons of Mass Destruction was used as a pretext. On 25 August 2004, Adam Price MP announced his intention to move for the impeachment of Tony Blair, invoking Blair’s role in involving Britain in the 2003 invasion when he was Prime Minister. Advice from the Clerk of the House of Commons that impeachment “effectively died with the advent of full responsible parliamentary government” soon put a stop to that attempt at impeachment The fact that Tony Blair was no longer in office seems to have slipped Mr. Price’s notice which would have meant impeachment could not have been used even if it was still on the statute books.
Impeachment was again brought to the fore in September 2019 when it was reported that some opposition politicians in the House of Commons were considering impeachment proceedings against the prime minister, Boris Johnson. Again, these MPs seem to have failed to realise impeachment was dead and buried as a law of the land.
So we can see that this very American impeachment of Donald Trump has its roots in English law and is indeed used in 30 countries around the world.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2019
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