Absolute immunity is a form of legal immunity in contrast to qualified immunity. While qualified immunity, by its very nature, carries with it a set of conditions that must be fulfilled in order for the immunity to attach, an absolute immunity is unconditional.
Examples of absolute immunity include judicial immunity and legislative immunity.
- Judicial immunity
- Legislative immunity
Judicial Immunity is a form of legal immunity which protects judges and others employed by the judiciary from lawsuits brought against them for judicial actions, no matter how incompetent, negligent, or malicious such conduct might be, even if this conduct is in violation of statutes.
Immunity in proceedings
Historically, the general rule in the United Kingdom has been that the Crown has never been able to be prosecuted or proceeded against in either criminal or civil cases. The only means by which civil proceedings could be brought were:
- by way of petition of right, which was dependent on the grant of the royal fiat (i.e. permission);
- by suits against the Attorney-General for a declaration; or
- by actions against ministers or government departments where an Act of Parliament had specifically provided that immunity be waived.
The position was drastically altered by the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 which made the Crown (when acting as the government) liable as of right in proceedings where it was previously only liable by virtue of a grant of a fiat. With limited exceptions, this had the effect of allowing proceedings for tort and contract to be brought against the Crown. Proceedings to bring writs of mandamus and prohibitionwere always available against ministers, because their actions derive from the royal prerogative.
As the Crown Proceedings Act only affected the law in respect of acts carried on by or on behalf of the UK government, the monarch remains personally immune from criminal and civil actions. However, civil proceedings can, in theory, still be brought using the two original mechanisms outlined above – by petition of right or by suit against the Attorney-General for a declaration.
The monarch is immune from arrest in all cases, and members of the royal household are also immune from arrest in civil proceedings. No arrest can be made “in the monarch’s presence”, or within the “verges” of a royal palace. When a royal palace is used as a residence (regardless of whether the monarch is actually living there at the time), judicial processes cannot be executed within that palace.
The monarch’s goods cannot be taken under a writ of execution, nor can distress be levied on land in their possession. Chattels owned by the Crown, but present on another’s land, cannot be taken in execution or for distress. The Crown is not subject to foreclosure.