R v Home Secretary, ex p Northumbria Police Authority [1989] QB 26

Key points

Where statutes do not expressly and unequivocally preclude the prerogative powers, prerogative powers remain effective


  • The Home Secretary issued a circular that in the future the Home Secretary will maintain a central store of plastic baton rounds and CS gas, from which local police forces will be able to purchase; the circular also provided a procedure for a police force to obtain such equipment despite of the disapproval from the police authority.
  • The Northumbria Police Authority brought a judicial review case against the Home Secretary
  • The NPA argued that s.4(4) of the 1964 Act stated that “police authorities are to provide for the supply of equipment to their local forces”, and thus the Home Secretary did not have the power under the royal prerogative to maintain peace to supply equipment when not requested by the police authority
  • The Divisional Court dismissed the application, Mann J held that “Section 4(4) was not drafted so as to create a monopoly and, […], there was no reason to imply that the conferred power was to be a monopoly”, providing that “an authority might decline to provide requisite equipment” ([1987] 2 W.L.R. 998, 1005)
  • The case went to the Court of Appeal.


Whether minister’s prerogative powers in maintaining peace sufficient to justify supply of equipment without consent of police authority?

Held (Court of Appeal)

Appeal dismissed; the delegated prerogative power of the Secretary of State to supply without police authority approval wasn’t inhibited by the 1964 Act

Croom-Johnson LJ

“The Divisional Court rejected that submission for reasons with which I wholly agree; namely that section 4 does not expressly grant a monopoly, and that granted the possibility of an authority which declines to provide equipment required by the chief constable there is every reason not to imply a Parliamentary intent to create one.”

In response to the argument by the NPA that prerogative may only be used in emergency and not beforehand in ‘peace and quiet’, it was pointed out that where “outbreaks of riot and serious civil disturbance” can be reasonably apprehended, “[t]he steps contemplated by the circular are within prerogative powers.”: p.45 D

Purchas LJ

“Where the executive action is directed towards the benefit or protection of the individual, it is unlikely that its use will attract the intervention of the courts. In my judgment, before the courts will hold that such executive action is contrary to legislation, express and unequivocal terms must be found in the statute which deprive the individual from receiving the benefit or protection intended by the exercise of prerogative power.”

“Even if I am not justified in holding that [sections 4(1), 4(4) and 41] afford positive statutory authority for the supply of equipment, they must fall short of an express and unequivocal inhibition sufficient to abridge the prerogative powers, otherwise available to the Secretary of State, to do all that is reasonably necessary to preserve the peace of the realm.”: p. 53 F


  • Compare this case with Attorney General v De Keyser’s Royal Hotel Ltd: the main difference between the two cases is that De Keyser confirmed that where a prerogative is clearly incompatible with a statutory provision, the statute prevails, and the current case highlights that the prerogative continues to be effective where the statute does not subsume its entire scope
  • However, this judgment left the limits of the prerogative power to maintain the peace almost entirely unclear. (Ward, “Baton rounds and circulars” [1988] 2 CLJ 155 pp. 156–157)
  • Other actions on the part of the executive might be justified in the same way, especially through “maintaining the Queen’s peace”.