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Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgments
  2. Chapter one: Defining the constitution
  3. Chapter two: Parliamentary sovereignty
  4. Chapter three: The rule of law and the separation of powers
    1. Entick v Carrington (1765) 19 St. Tr. 1030
    2. Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223
    3. Liversidge v Anderson and Another [1942] AC 207; [1941] 3 All ER 338
    4. London Tramway Co. v London County Council [1898] AC 375
    5. Harris v Minister of the Interior (no.2) (1952) 4 SA 769; in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa
    6. Collins v Minister of the Interior [1957] 1 SA 552 (AD); in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa.
    7. R v Inland Revenue Commissioners and others, ex parte Rossminster Ltd (CA) [1980] AC 952; [1979] 3 All ER 385
    8. R v Medical Appeal Tribunal, ex parte Gilmore [1957] 1 QB 574 (CA)
    9. Anisminic v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147; [1969] 1 All ER 208
    10. Practice Direction - Judicial Precedent [1966] 3 All ER 77 (HL)
    11. R v R (Rape: marital exemption) [1991] 4 All ER 481
    12. R v C [2004] EWCA Crim 292: [2004] 3 All ER 1: [2004] 1 WLR 2098 (CA).
    13. Re Spectrum Plus Ltd [2005] UKHL 41; [2005] 4 All ER 209
  5. Chapter four: The royal prerogative
  6. Chapter five: The House of Commons
  7. Chapter six: The House of Lords
  8. Chapter seven: The electoral system
  9. Chapter eight: Parliamentary privilege
  10. Chapter nine: Constitutional conventions
  11. Chapter ten: Local government
  12. Chapter eleven: Parliamentary sovereignty within the European Union
  13. Chapter twelve: The governance of Scotland and Wales
  14. Chapter thirteen: Substantive grounds of judicial review 1: illegality, irrationality and proportionality
  15. Chapter fourteen: Procedural grounds of judicial review
  16. Chapter fifteen: Challenging governmental decisions: the process
  17. Chapter sixteen: Locus standi
  18. Chapter seventeen: Human rights I: Traditional perspectives
  19. Chapter eighteen: Human rights II: Emergent principles
  20. Chapter nineteen: Human rights III: New substantive grounds of review
  21. Chapter twenty: Human rights IV: The Human Rights Act 1998
  22. Chapter twenty-one: Human rights V: The impact of The Human Rights Act 1998
  23. Chapter twenty-two: Human rights VI: Governmental powers of arrest and detention
  24. Chapter twenty-three: Leaving the European Union

Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223

LORD GREENE MR:....The powers and duties of the local authority are to be found in the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932. That Act legalised the opening of cinemas on Sundays, subject to certain specified conditions and such conditions as the licensing authority think fit to impose....[S].1 of the Act of 1932... provides:

(1) The authority having power, in any area to which this section extends, to grant licences under the Cinematograph Act, 1909, may, notwithstanding anything in any enactment relating to Sunday observance, allow places in that area licensed under the said Act to be opened and used on Sundays for the purpose of cinematograph entertainments, subject to such conditions as the authority think fit to impose"....

[I]n the present case the defendants imposed the following condition in their licence:

"No children under the age of 15 years shall be admitted to any entertainment"....

The courts must always remember, first, that the Act deals, not with a judicial act, but with an executive act; secondly, that the conditions which, under the exercise of that executive act, may be imposed are in terms put within the discretion of the local authority without limitation; and thirdly, that the statute provides no appeal from the decision of the local authority. What, then, is the power of the courts? The courts can only interfere with an act of an executive authority if it be shown that the authority have contravened the law. It is for those who assert that the local authority have contravened the law to establish that proposition. On the face of it, a condition of this kind is perfectly lawful. It is not to be assumed prima facie that responsible bodies like local authorities will exceed their powers, and the court, whenever it is alleged that the local authority have contravened the law, must not substitute itself for the local authority. It is only concerned with seeing whether or not the proposition is made good. When an executive discretion is entrusted by Parliament to a local authority, what purports to be an exercise of that discretion can only be challenged in the courts in a very limited class of case. It must always be remembered that the court is not a court of appeal. The law recognises certain principles on which the discretion must be exercised, but within the four corners of those principles the discretion is an absolute one and cannot be questioned in any court of law.

What, then, are those principles? They are perfectly well understood. The exercise of such a discretion must be a real exercise of the discretion. If, in the statute conferring the discretion, there is to be found, expressly or by implication, matters to which the authority exercising the discretion ought to have regard, then, in exercising the discretion, they must have regard to those matters. Conversely, if the nature of the subject-matter and the general interpretation of the Act make it clear that certain matters would not be germane to the matter in question, they must disregard those matters. Expressions have been used in cases where the powers of local authorities came to be considered relating to the sort of thing that may give rise to interference by the court. Bad faith, dishonesty ( those, of course, stand by themselves ( unreasonableness, attention given to extraneous circumstances, disregard of public policy, and things like that have all been referred to as being matters which are relevant for consideration. In the present case we have heard a great deal about the meaning of the word "unreasonable". It is true the discretion must be exercised reasonably. What does that mean? Lawyers familiar with the phraselogy commonly used in relation to the exercise of statutory discretions often use the word (unreasonable( in a rather comprehensive sense. It is frequently used as a general description of the things that must not be done. For instance, a person entrusted with a discretion must direct himself properly in law. He must call his own attention to the matters which he is bound to consider. He must exclude from his consideration matters which are irrelevant to the matter that he has to consider. If he does not obey those rules, he may truly be said, and often is said, to be acting "unreasonably". Similarly, you may have something so absurd that no sensible person could ever dream that it lay within the powers of the authority. Warrington LJ, I think it was, gave the example of the red-haired teacher, dismissed because she had red hair. That is unreasonable in one sense. In another sense it is taking into consideration extraneous matters. It is so unreasonable that it might almost be described as being done in bad faith. In fact, all those things largely fall under one head.

In the present case, it is said by counsel for the plaintiffs that the authority acted unreasonably in imposing this condition. In the first place, it appears to me clear that the matter dealt with by this condition was one which a reasonable authority would be justified in considering when it was making up its mind what conditions should be attached to the grant of its permission. Nobody, at this time of day, can say that the well-being and the physical and moral health of children are not matters which a local authority, in exercising its powers, can properly have in mind when those questions are germane to what it has to consider....

Theoretically it is true to say ( and in practice it may operate in some cases ( that, if a so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could ever have come to it, then the courts can interfere. That, I think, is right, but that would require overwhelming proof, and in this case the facts do not come anywhere near such a thing....

The court may very well have different views from those of a local authority on matters of high public policy of this kind. Some courts might think that no children ought to be admitted on Sundays at all, some courts might think the reverse. All over the country, I have no doubt, on a thing of that sort honest and sincere people hold different views. The effect of the legislation is not to set up the court as an arbiter of the correctness of one view over another. It is the local authority who are put in that position and, provided they act, as they have acted here, within the four corners of their jurisdiction, the court, in my opinion, cannot interfere....