Impeachment is a rare term that can be misunderstood. A typical misconception is to confuse it with direct and involuntary removal from office; in fact, it is only a legal statement of charges, paralleling an indictment in criminal law. An official who is impeached faces a second legislative vote (whether by the same body or another), which determines conviction, or failure to convict, on the charges embodied by the impeachment. Most constitutions require a supermajority to convict. The word "impeachment" derives from Latin roots expressing the idea of becoming caught or entrapped, and has analogues in the modern French verb empêcher (to prevent) and the modern English impede. Medieval popular etymology also associated it (wrongly) with derivations from the Latin impetere (to attack). (In its more frequent and more technical usage, impeachment of a person in the role of a witness is the act challenging the honesty or credibility of that person.)
The process should not be confused with a recall election. A recall election is usually initiated by voters and can be based on "political charges", for example mismanagement, whereas impeachment is initiated by a constitutional body (usually a legislative body) and is usually based, but not always, on indictable offenses. The process of removing the official is also different.
Impeachment is a British invention. Following the British example, the constitutions of Virginia (1776) and Massachusetts (1780) and other states thereafter adopted the impeachment doctrine. In private organizations, a motion to impeach can be used to prefer charges.
The House of Lords hears the case. The procedure used to be that the Lord Chancellor presided (or the Lord High Steward if the defendant was a peer). However since the Lord Chancellor today is no longer a judge, it is not certain who would preside over an impeachment trial today. If Parliament is not in session, then the trial is conducted by a "Court of the Lord High Steward" instead of the House of Lords (even if the defendant is not a peer).
The hearing resembles an ordinary trial: both sides may call witnesses and present evidence. At the end of the hearing the lords vote on the verdict, which is decided by a simple majority, one charge at a time. Upon being called, a lord must rise and declare "guilty, upon my honour" or "not guilty, upon my honour". After voting on all of the articles has taken place, and if the Lords find the defendant guilty, the Commons may move for judgment; the Lords may not declare the punishment until the Commons have so moved. The Lords may then decide whatever punishment they find fit, within the law. A royal pardon cannot excuse the defendant from trial, but a pardon may reprieve a convicted defendant.
In April 1977 the Young Liberals' annual conference unanimously passed a motion to call on the Liberal leader (David Steel) to move for the impeachment of Ronald King Murray QC, the Lord Advocate. Mr. Steel did not call the motion but Murray (now Lord Murray, a former Senator of the College of Justice of Scotland) agrees that the Commons still have the right to initiate an impeachment motion. On 25 August 2004, Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price announced his intention to move for the impeachment of Tony Blair for his role in involving Britain in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In response Peter Hain, the Commons Leader, insisted that impeachment was obsolete, given modern government's responsibility to parliament. Ironically, Peter Hain had served as president of the Young Liberals when they called for the impeachment of Mr. Murray in 1977.
In 2006, General Sir Michael Rose revived the call for the impeachment of the United Kingdom's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for leading the country into the invasion of Iraq in 2003 under allegedly false justification.
Article III of the Constitution states that judges remain in office "during good behaviour," implying that Congress may remove a judge for bad behavior via impeachment. Whether this is the only method available to remove judges is a subject of controversy. The House has impeached 13 federal judges and the Senate has convicted six of them.
The House of Representatives did impeach a Senator once, Senator William Blount. The senate expelled Senator Blount and, after initially hearing his impeachment, dismissed the charges for lack of jurisdiction. Left unsettled was the question "Are members of Congress civil officers of the United States?" The House has never impeached a Member of Congress after Blount and, as each House has the authority to expel their own members—without involving the other chamber; expulsion has been the method used for removing Members of Congress.
Jefferson's Manual, which is integral to the House rules, states that impeachment is set in motion by: charges made on the floor; charges preferred by a memorial; a Member's resolution referred to a committee; a message from the President; charges transmitted from the legislature of a State or territory or from a grand jury; or from facts developed and reported by an investigating committee of the House. It further states that a proposition to impeach is a question of high privilege in the House and at once supersedes business otherwise in order under the rules governing the order of business.
In order to convict the accused, a two-thirds majority of the senators present is required. Conviction automatically removes the defendant from office. Following conviction, the Senate may vote to further punish the individual by barring them from holding future federal office (either elected or appointed). Despite a conviction by the Senate, the defendant remains liable to criminal prosecution. It is possible to impeach someone even after the accused has vacated their office in order to disqualify the person from future office or from certain emoluments of their prior office (such as a pension). If there is no charge for which a two-thirds majority of the senators present vote "Guilty", the defendant is acquitted and no punishment is imposed. After a person has been accused, they are not allowed to return.
Many mistakenly assume Richard Nixon was impeached. While the House Judiciary Committee did approve articles of impeachment against him and did report those articles to the House of Representatives, Nixon resigned prior to House consideration of the impeachment resolutions and was subsequently pardoned by President Ford.
The country's ruling coalition said Thursday 7th August 2008 that it would seek the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, alleging the U.S.-backed former general had "eroded the trust of the nation" and increasing pressure on him to resign.
Impeaching a president requires a two-thirds majority support of lawmakers in a joint session of both houses of Parliament.
Impeachment in the Philippines follows procedures similar to the United States. The House of Representatives is where impeachment proceedings are initiated. A main difference from US proceedings however is that only 1/3 of house members are required to approve the motion to impeach the president (as opposed to 50%+1 members in their US counterpart). The Senate is where impeachment cases are tried with selected members of the house of representatives acting as the prosecutors and the senators act as judges with the senate president and chief justice of the supreme court jointly presiding over the proceedings. Like the US, in order to convict the official in question, a minimum of 2/3 (i.e 16 of 24 members) of the senate is required to vote in favour of conviction. If an impeachment attempt is unsuccessful or the official is acquitted, a new case can't be filed against that impeacheable official for at 1 year.
The 1987 Philippine constitution states that grounds for impeachment include bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the constitution. The president, vice president, supreme court justices, members of the Commission on Elections and ombudsman are considered impeachable officials under the constitution.
Joseph Estrada was the first Philippine president impeached by the house in 2000 although the trial ended prematurely due to outrage over a vote to open an envelope where that motion was narrowly defeated by his allies.
In 2005 and 2006, impeachment complaints were filed against President Gloria Arroyo although neither case reached the required endorsement of 1/3 of the members for transmittal to and trial by the Senate.
In the Republic of Ireland formal impeachment can apply only to the President. Article 12 of the Constitution of Ireland provides that, unless judged to be "permanently incapacitated" by the Supreme Court, the president can only be removed from office by the houses of the Oireachtas (parliament) and only for the commission of "stated misbehaviour". Either house of the Oireachtas may impeach the president, but only by a resolution approved by a majority of at least two-thirds of its total number of members; and a house may not consider a proposal for impeachment unless requested to do so by at least thirty of its number.
Where one house impeaches the president, the remaining house either investigates the charge or commissions another body or committee to do so. The investigating house can remove the president if it decides, by at least a two-thirds majority of its members, both that she is guilty of the charge of which she stands accused, and that the charge is sufficiently serious as to warrant her removal. To date no impeachment of an Irish president has ever taken place. The president holds a largely ceremonial office, the dignity of which is considered important, so it is likely that a president would resign from office long before undergoing formal conviction or impeachment.