M v Home Office [1994] 1 AC 377

Key point

  • The Courts can enforce the law against the Crown and its ministers through the grant of injunctions

Facts

  • M, a citizen of Zaire, came to the UK seeking asylum
  • M was deported by the Home Office contrary to Garland J’s  injunction ordering M’s return
  • The Court of Appeal found Kenneth Baker, in the capacity of the Home Secretary, in contempt of court on the basis of non-compliance of the injunction

Held (House of Lords)

  • Appeal dismissed; courts can grant injunctions (both final or interim) against the Crown; ministers of the Crown are not immune to contempt proceedings
  • For the first time, a minister of the Crown, the Home Secretary, was held in contempt of court

Lord Templeman

  • “My Lords, the argument that there is no power to enforce the law by injunction or contempt proceedings against a minister in his official capacity would, if upheld, establish the proposition that the executive obey the law as a matter of grace and not as a matter of necessity, a proposition which would reverse the result of the Civil War.”
  • The court may find ministers in contempt in both their personal and official capacities, however, in the present case, the Home Secretary was acting in his official capacity, on advice which he was entitled to accept and under a mistaken view as to the law.
  • “The judges cannot enforce the law against the Crown as Monarch because the Crown as Monarch can do no wrong but judges enforce the law against the Crown as executive and against the individuals who from time to time represent the Crown.”

Lord Woolf

  • Section 31(2) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 gave the court jurisdiction on applications for judicial review to grant injunctions against ministers and other representatives of the Crown
  • While contempt proceedings are personal and punitive (thus usually inappropriate against the Crown and its representatives), when used in limited circumstances, are necessary as part of the court’s jurisdiction to protects its orders

Commentary

  • This case exemplifies equality under law, a key component of the rule of law
  • The coercive power of the courts particularly important to allow the judiciary to fulfil their constitutional role of preventing the abuse of executive power