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Adjournment in United Kingdom

Definition of Adjournment

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Adjournment :(in court procedure) The postponement or suspension of the hearing of a case until a future date. The hearing may be adjourned to a fixed date or sine die (without day), i.e. for an indefinite period. If an adjournment is granted at the request of a party the court may attach conditions, e.g. relating to the payment of any *costs thrown away.

Adjournment Meaning

Adjournment in Scottish Law

A break in court proceedings, perhaps for lunch, overnight or to a new date.

In the Parliament

A temporary pause in the proceedings of a legislature which has no legal effect on the course of parliamentary business. The House of Lords or the House of Commons may adjourn at its own pleasure; the Crown cannot direct either to do so, and although the Stuart Kings made claim to such a right it was never acknowledged. The Crown has, however, acquired by Acts of 1799 and 1870 the power to abridge an adjournment. If it lasts longer than fourteen days the Crown may by proclamation order the resumption of the sittings on a day not less than six days after the date of the proclamation. In the Commons the Speaker can adjourn the House if there is not a quorum present or in the event of ‘grave disorder’ without putting any question, nor does he put the question when the House adjourns automatically at the end of the day’s sitting or for the week-end break from Friday to Monday. This was not always the case, and up to 1888, when a fixed hour for the interruption of business was first introduced, the House could not adjourn unless a motion to that effect had been carried.

Before that date the Speaker was sometimes left stranded in the Chair because members hurried out before he could put the question. Although not now necessary in the above instances, the House can still be adjourned by motion, and it is this motion which is debated more frequently than anything else in the House of Commons. Of course these debates have usually nothing to do with the advisability or otherwise of adjourning. They are concerned with all kinds of topics, and ‘the adjournment’ is simply a peg to hang them on. However, the practice has been severely restricted in recent times, and the use of the adjournment as a motion for general debate is now confined to the beginning of business, when it must be moved by a minister; to discussing a ‘definite matter of urgent public importance’ (q.v.); and to the last half-hour of each day’s sitting from Monday to Thursday. As on these occasions the motion is quite unrelated to the subject of the debate, and there is no question before the House which, when voted on, will express its will and opinion in precise terms, the Government must draw its conclusions as to the feeling in the House from the general trend of the debate.

Members receiving an unsatisfactory reply to a question often announce that they will raise the matter ‘on the adjournment’, and subjects debated on adjournment motions have ranged from an alleged injustice suffered by a member’s constituent to the conduct of the last War–a momentous debate which signalled the fall of the Chamberlain Government.

The use of the motion to obstruct the business of the House–the ‘dilatory motion’ (q.v.)–was common towards the end of the 18th century, but the Standing Orders now give the Speaker power to refuse to accept a motion for the adjournment if he thinks it is an abuse of the rules of the House. It is in any case now accepted that between separate Orders of the Day only a minister can move the adjournment.

Adjournments of both Houses have taken place as a token of respect at the passing of a distinguished person, particularly a member or ex-member. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first foreigner to whom tribute was paid in this manner when the House of Commons adjourned on the day of his death, 12 April 1945.

Either House may be recalled prior to the day to which it stands adjourned if an earlier meeting is deemed to be in the public interest. In such circumstances the House of Lords and the House of Commons are summoned by the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker respectively. The former, as a member of the Government, acts in consultation with the Government, whilst the latter takes action when the need for recalling Parliament is represented to him by the Government.

The adjournment of the House should be distinguished from the adjournment of the debate. A debate may be adjourned at any time, except while another member is speaking but if a motion to adjourn the debate is defeated or withdrawn no similar motion may be moved subsequently unless some other motion has intervened. The mover and seconder of a defeated motion to adjourn the debate lose their right to speak in the debate itself, and are not permitted to move a similar motion subsequently. Conversely, a member who has already spoken in the debate losses the right to move or second its adjournment, unless he makes the motion during the course of his speech. If the Speaker considers a motion to adjourn the debate to be an abuse of the rules of the House he may refuse to accept it or he may put the question to the House without debate. A motion to adjourn the debate may not be made while a motion to adjourn the House is being discussed. [1]


See Also

  • Parliament


  1. Wilding, N. and Laundy, P., An Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 4th ed., London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1972

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Adjournment
  • Author: MacCallum
  • Description: Definition of Adjournment In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Adjournment :(in court [...]

This entry was last updated: July 8, 2017




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