IMPEACHMENT IN BRITAIN
Although Britain has seen fewer than 70 impeachments, and no one has been impeached since Lord Melville was charged and acquitted in 1806, Parliament still retains the power to impeach MPs and Lords. The two houses can prosecute for any crime they like--exercising, in the words of Erskine May, "the functions of a high court of justice and of a jury." The procedure is complex, and varies depending on whether the accused is a Commoner or a Peer. In essence, the Commons determines if an impeachment is warranted, and prepares and prosecutes the case. The Lords question the accused, summon witnesses, and adjudicate. It is for the Commons to demand judgment be passed, or to pardon the accused (the sovereign has no right of pardon in such cases). A number of recent reports into parliamentary privilege have called for impeachment to be abandoned, claiming that in the modern political culture it is effectively obsolete. Yet, in 2004, 11 MPs expressed an intention to impeach Tony Blair for taking Britain to war against Iraq. These MPs would have had to persuade the Commons the Blair had a case to answer--a task that failed the last time it was attempted, when some MPs tried to impeach the foreign secretary, Palmerston, in 1848 over an alleged secret treaty with Russia.
Peter De Vries (1910-93)