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Prakash Yedhula (Lawyer)     30 July 2007

Wednesbury Principles

When I read a news article in the Indian Express today ie on 30.07.2007 about the endowment lecture on ""Judicial review of administrative acts - the efficacy of Wednesbury's principles and contemporary development of law"" that was held in Chennai on 29.07.2007, I was wondering about the origin of the terms ""Wednesbury Principles"" that are used widely in legal parlance today. Though Indian Express carried an article regarding the same, I too wanted to contribute something on this to our members. Hence after some research, I came to know about the origin, which are as follows:

Facts of the Case:

'''Associated Provincial Picture Houses"" were granted a licence by the defendant local authority to operate a cinema on condition that no children under 15 were admitted to the cinema on Sundays. The claimants sought a declaration that such a condition was unacceptable, and outside the power of the Corporation to impose.The court held that it could not intervene to overturn the decision of the defendant corporation simply because the court disagreed with it. To have the right to intervene, the court would have to form the conclusion that:the corporation, in making that decision, took into account factors that ought not to have been taken into account, or the corporation failed to take account factors that ought to have been taken into account, or the decision was so unreasonable that no reasonable authority would ever consider imposing it. The court held that the condition did not fall into any of these categories. Therefore, the claim failed and the decision of the Wednesbury Corporation was upheld.

Use of the Case: The test laid down in this case, in all three limbs, is known as ""the Wednesbury test"". The term ""Wednesbury unreasonableness"" is used to describe the third limb, of being so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could have decided that way. This case or the principle laid down is cited in United Kingdom courts as a reason for courts to be hesitant to interfere into the decisions of administrative law. In recent times, particularly as a result of the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998, the judiciary have realised from this strict abstentionist approach, recognising that in certain circumstances it is necessary for them to undertake a more searching review of administrative decisions. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights now require the reviewing court to subject the original decision to ""anxious scrutiny"" when an administrative measure infinges a Convention right. In order to justify such an intrusion, the Respondents will have to show that it pursued a ""pressing social need"" and that the means employed to achieve this were proportionate to the limitation of the right


 3 Replies

kirankumaradv (n/a)     28 August 2007

Thanks for the commentry on Wednesbury principles

SANJAY DIXIT (Advocate)     17 April 2008

Thanks for the views on the term "Wednesbury Principles".

Rajan Salvi (Lawyer)     21 January 2012


1999 CrLJ 571

The scope of judicial review has been well defined in (1947) 2 All ER 680 which is known as Wednesbury Principles and Chief Constable of the North Wales Police v. Evans (1982) 3 All ER 141 (154); Lord Greene in Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd. v. Wednesbury Corporation (1947) 2 All ER 680 observed :

...It is true that discretion must be exercised reasonably. Now what does that mean? Lawyers familiar with the phraseology used in relation to exercise of statutory discretions often use the word 'unreasonable' in a rather comprehensive sense. It has frequently been used and is frequently used as a general descripttion of the things that must not be done. For instance, a person entrusted with a discretion must, so to speak, 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 what 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, there may be something so absurd that no sensible person could even dream that it lay within the powers of the authority...In another, it is taking into consideration extraneous matters. It is unreasonable that it might almost be described as being done in bad faith; and in fact, all these things run into one another.

It was further observed :

...it must be proved to be unreasonable in the sense that the Court considers it to be a decision that no reasonable body can come to. It is not what the Court considers unreasonable.... The effect of the legislation is not to set up the Court as an arbiter of the correctness of one view over another.

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