Wheeler v Leicester CC [1985] AC 1054

Key point
  • The use of public powers to punishing acts of private individuals and organisations that are otherwise reasonable and lawful will be quashed on the ground of improper purpose, part of the wider ground of illegality
Facts
  • The English Rugby Football Union had been using the  recreation ground for training which they were allowed to do by the Leicester City Council
  • 3 of its rugby players went on tour in South Africa during apartheid
  • The City Council asked the club four questions, including whether they opposed the tour and would press their players to cancel
  • The Club did not want to get involved in political matters and responded that although they do not support apartheid, sporting contacts are not illegal
  • Due to their answers, the Club was banned from using the recreation ground for training for 12 months by the City Council
  • The members of the Club applied for judicial review of the ban
  • The Court of appeal dismissed the appeal and held that the Council was entitled to take exercise its discretion in this manner to promote good race relations as expressed in section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976
Issue
  • Was the ban a lawful exercise of discretion by the Council under s71 of the Race Relations Act 1976?
Held (House of Lords)
  • Appeal allowed; the ban was ordered to be quashed
  • Lord Roskill ordered the ban to be quashed on the ground that the ban was unreasonable and amounted to a procedural impropriety
  • Lord Templeman did so on the basis that the ban was an abuse of discretion
Lord Roskill

Unreasonableness

  • ‘Persuasion, even powerful persuasion, is always a permissible way of seeking to obtain an objective. But in a field where other views can equally legitimately be held, persuasion, however powerful, must not be allowed to cross that line where it moves into the field of illegitimate pressure coupled with the threat of sanctions’: p. 1078D
  • Thus, ‘the actions of the council were unreasonable in the Wednesbury sense’: p. 1079B

Procedural impropriety

  • The club had received ‘reasoned and reasonable answers’ that expressed ‘lawful view’
  • Therefore, ‘the court should interfere because of the unfair manner in which the council set about obtaining its objective’
  • He agreed with Lord Templeman’s judgment as well
Lord Templeman

Illegality (Abuse of discretion)

  • “My Lords, the laws of this country are not like the laws of Nazi Germany. A private individual or a private organisation cannot be obliged to display zeal in the pursuit of an object sought by a public authority and cannot be obliged to publish views dictated by a public authority.”
  • ‘In my opinion, this use by the council of its statutory powers was a misuse of power. The council could not properly seek to use its statutory powers of management or any other statutory powers for the purposes of punishing the club when the club had done no wrong.’: p. 1081
Commentary
  • A crucial point is that the club did not breach any law by not publicly expressing an opinion similar to the council’s
  • Lord Roskill’s judgment fell within the second and third grounds of judicial review, unreasonableness and procedural impropriety in Lord Diplock’s judgement in CCSU
  • Lord Templeman’s judgment fell within the first ground of illegality from Lord Diplock’s judgment
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