R v Lewisham LBC ex parte Shell [1988] 1 All ER 938

Key point

  • If a legally invalid reason for a decision has a “substantial influence” on a decision, the decision can be quashed by the courts


  • In a report, the Lewisham London Borough Council stated its duty under s71 of the Race Relations Act 1976 and decided to boycott Shell UK Ltd, which is a company in the UK and is part of a group of a collective that operates in South Africa
  • The report contained numerous references to the Council’s commitment to show its opposition towards apartheid in South Afirca, including influence from a report by the anti-apartheid working party
  • Shell argued that the decision was ultra vires because an improper or irrelevant factor had exerted a substantial influence on the decision, namely, the decision to punish Shell UK for the Shell group’s links in South Africa
  • The Council argued namely that the anti-apartheid policy was “manifestly good” reace relations, furtheremore, no absolute ban on Shell Uk was imposed


  • Was the council’s decision valid?

Held (Court of Appeal)

  • The decision was invalid

Neill LJ

  • A Council cannot exercise beyond its statutory powers and cannot use its expansive statutory powers to punish or pressure a body or person who has done nothing unreasonable and contrary to English law
  • Generally, if two reasons or purposes of a decision are disentangled, and one of them is bad, if the bad reason or purpose exerted a “substantial influence”, it is enough to quash the decision
  • On the other hand, if the decision would have been exactly the same, the court should not interfere
  • Per the facts, the purpose of the decision had a clear purpose to not only promote good race relations, but also to procure a withdrawal of the Shell group from South Africa
  • Accordingly, the “extraneous and impermissible purpose” vitiated the validity of the decision


  • Judicial review for improper purpose falls within the judicial review ground of illegality