The House of Lords (Lords Keith, Templeman, Griffiths, Browne-Wilkinson, Woolf) rejected the proposition that the courts did not have power to enforce the law against a Minister of the Crown. Applications for judicial review were not 'proceedings against the Crown' for the purposes of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947: accordingly injunctive relief against a Minister or officer of the Crown is available in judicial review.
The most detailed speech
was given by Lord Woolf but the speech of Lord Templeman provides a useful summary of the position:
In the present case, counsel for the Secretary of State argued that the judge could not enforce the law by injunction or contempt proceedings against the minister in his official capacity. Counsel also argued that in his personal capacity Mr. Kenneth Baker the Secretary of State for Home Affairs had not been guilty of contempt.
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. For the reasons given by my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf and on principle, I am satisfied that injunctions and contempt proceedings may be brought against the minister in his official capacity and that in the present case the Home Office for which the Secretary of State was responsible was in contempt. I am also satisfied that Mr. Baker was throughout acting in his official capacity, on advice which he was entitled to accept and under a mistaken view as to the law. In these circumstances I do not consider that Mr. Baker personally was guilty of contempt. I would therefore dismiss this appeal substituting the Secretary of State for Home Affairs as being the person against whom the finding of contempt was made." [End of speech].
The case is also notable for the dictum by Lord Justice Nolan in the Court of Appeal - "The proper constitutional relationship of the executive and the courts is that the courts will respect all acts of the executive within its lawful province, and that the executive will respect all decisions of the courts as to what its lawful province is."