William Craig accurately described the question of privilege as follows:
"The purpose of a question of privilege is to obtain immediate action upon some matter which concerns the rights and privileges of the meeting of the whole or of some particular member of the meeting."
An important issue related to the whole meeting or assembly such as heating, ventilation, sound or lighting.
A question of privilege is directed at the chair. It will be allowed to interrupt a speaker if the chair determines that the alleged question of privilege is of an urgent nature.
A question of privilege is resolved by the chair of a meeting. It is not a matter for the whole assembly to debate unless the chair defers to the assembly or if the chair’s ruling is appealed to the assembly (some organizations provide for an appeal of the chair’s decisions on points of order or questions of privileges - some explicitly disallow such an appeal).
Words of wisdom from the Canadian authority Procedures for Meetings and Organizations:
"Where there is a disturbance, the chair should halt the meeting, interrupt the speaker where necessary and called for order, and, where an admonition to the speaker does not suffice, a recess may be in order. When the situation is extreme, an adjournment may be required….
"The chair may order the removal of a person interfering unduly with the conduct of the proceedings. Such action prudently should be taken only in those instances where the chair reasonably expects to be step by the meeting."
A unique species of questions of privilege are those which object to personal remarks made by another during the meeting, sometimes distinguished by name as questions of personal privilege.
For example, in the course of speaking on a motion, a member might make a comment which reflects poorly on another member’s character.
A chair has the first duty to control and stop offensive language or imputations of improper motives but if he or she does not, a question of personal privilege is properly stated.
In these instances, in the event that the chair upholds the question of privilege, the transgressor is asked to withdraw his or her remarks failing which, he or she is usually subject to being asked to leave the meeting.
- Craig, William Graham, The Law and Procedure of Meetings in Canada, (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1966), page 49.
- Kerr, K. and King, H., Procedures for Meetings and Organizations, (Toronto: Carswell, 1996), page 19-31
- Nathan, H. and Voore, M., Corporate Meetings: Law and Practice, (Toronto: Carswell, 1995), page 19-28 and 19-29.
- Robert, H., Robert’s Rules of Order, 10th Edition (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Publishing, 2000)