The Chatham House Rule is a system for holding discussions on potentially controversial topics, particularly in politics and public affairs.
At a meeting held under the Chatham House Rule, you are free to use information from the discussion, but you are not allowed to reveal who specifically provided it. The rule is intended to increase openness of debate. It also allows individuals to speak for themselves and not necessarily for affiliated organizations.
Specifically, the rule states:
When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.
The rule is invoked by the host of the meeting stating up front that the meeting is operating under the Chatham House Rule. Of course, the effectiveness of the rule relies on trust and sometimes requires disciplinary action, such as exclusion of the violating participant from future meetings.
The rule is essentially a compromise between private meetings, where revealing what was said is forbidden, and on the record events where the discussion is usually attributed to the speakers.
As a result, it is typically not used in an official setting where public meetings of lawmakers and government officials must be open to the public.
The rule is named after the headquarters of the U.K. Royal Institute of International Affairs, based in Chatham House, London, where the rule originated in June 1927. The rule was refined in 1992 and 2002. The Chatham House building was once the home to three British Prime Ministers.
The rule has also been translated into several languages.