Padfield v Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries [1968] AC 997

Key point

  • A minister’s discretion in exercising his statutory powers is subject to the restriction that it cannot frustrate the purpose of the Act he derives


  • Padfield and other milk producers in the South East region (the claimants), complained the to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries that the prices to be paid for their milk should be increased, as the costs of transport have increased
  • The price to be paid to the producers is fixed by the Milk Marketing Board, and the cost of transport is to be taken into account when affixing the price
  • The Minister refused to appoint a committee of investigation due to the political and economic difficulty it would cause if the committee found in favour of the claimants
  • The claimants applied for judicial review and a mandamus order (ie mandatory order) to compel the Minister to appoint a committee of investigation under s19 Agricultural Marketing Act 1958 which he refused
  • The Court of Appeal held that the minister’s discretion could not be challenged


  • What is the extent of the Minister’s duty in deciding whether or not to refer a complaint?
  • Does the Minister have an unfettered discretion to refer a complaint?

Held (House of Lords)

  • Apeql allowed; the Minister’s reason for refusing to appoint a committee would frustrate the purpose of the Act, by allowing the appeal, judicial review can now be brought to address discretionary powers

Lord Reid

Improper purpose

  • ‘Parliament must have conferred the discretion with the intention that it should be used to promote the policy and objects of the Act, the policy and objects of the Act must be determined by construing the Act as a whole and construction is always a matter of law for the court. In a matter of this kind it is not possible to draw a hard and fast line, but if the Minister, by reason of his having misconstrued the Act or for any other reason, so uses his discretion as to thwart or run counter to the policy and objects of the Act, then our law would be very defective if persons aggrieved were not entitled to the protection of the court.’: p. 1030B

Current case

  • Construing the 1958, it was concluding that ‘if a complaint relevantly alleges that the board has so acted, as this complaint does, then it appears to me that the Act does impose a duty on the Minister to have it investigated. If he does not do that he is rendering nugatory a safeguard provided by the Act and depriving complainers of a remedy which I am satisfied that Parliament intended them to have.’: p. 1032
  • The fact that the Minister has given no reasons for his refusal does not mean that his decision cannot be questioned: ‘If it is the Minister’s duty not to act so as to frustrate the policy and objects of the Act, and if it were to appear from all the circumstances of the case that that has been the effect of the Minister’s refusal, then it appears to me that the court must be entitled to act’: p. 1033
  • ‘I have found no authority to support the unreasonable proposition that it must be all or nothing – either no discretion at all or an unfettered discretion: p. 1033