Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation: CA 10 Nov 1947

Administrative Discretion to be Used Reasonably

The applicant challenged the manner of decision making as to the conditions which had been attached to its licence to open the cinema on Sundays. It had not been allowed to admit children under 15 years of age. The statute provided no appeal procedure, and the applicant sought a declaration that the conditions were ineffective.
Held: Parliament had given to the local authority a discretion as to the conditions for the licence. That discretion might be exercised in different ways according to honestly and reasonably held opinion. It was not the court’s job to substitute its own opinion for that of the local authority.
Greene MR said: ‘the discretion must be exercised reasonably. Now what does that mean? Lawyers familiar with the phraseology commonly used in relation to exercise of statutory discretions often use the word ‘unreasonable’ in a rather comprehensive sense. It has frequently been used and is frequently used as a general description of the things that must not be done. For instance, a person entrusted with a discretion must, so to speak, direct himself properly in law. He must call his own attention to the matters which he is bound to consider. He must exclude from his consideration matters which are irrelevant to what he has to consider. If he does not obey those rules, he may truly be said, and often is said, to be acting ‘unreasonably.’ Similarly, there may be something so absurd that no sensible person could ever dream that it lay within the powers of the authority.’ and ‘The court is entitled to investigate the action of the local authority with a view to seeing whether they have taken into account matters which they ought not to take into account, or, conversely, have refused to take into account or neglected to take into account matters which they ought to take into account. Once that question is answered in favour of the local authority, it may be still possible to say that, although the local authority have kept within the four corners of the matters which they ought to consider, they have nevertheless come to a conclusion so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could ever have come to it. In such a case, again, I think the court can interfere. The power of the court to interfere in each case is not as an appellate authority to override a decision of the local authority, but as a judicial authority which is concerned, and concerned only, to see whether the local authority have contravened the law by acting in excess of the powers which Parliament has confided in them.’


Greene MR, Somervell LJ and Singleton J


[1947] 2 All ER 680, [1948] 1 KB 223, 1947 WL 10584, (1948) 92 SJ 26, [1948] LJR 190, [1948] 45 LGR 635, (1948) 112 JP 55, 63 TLR 623, [1947] EWCA Civ 1




Sunday Entertainments Act 1932, Cinematograph Act 1909


England and Wales


CitedTheatre de Luxe (Halifax) LD v Gledhill KBD 1915
The company appealed a condition which had been attached to its licence to open the cinema. The condition was that ‘Children under fourteen years of age shall not be allowed to enter into or be in the licensed premises after the hour of 9 p.m. . .
CitedLondon County Council v Bermondsey Bioscope Co 1911
. .
CitedHarman v Butt 1944
A condition imposed on a cinema license not allowing children under a certain age was intra vires the Act. The licence to open on Sundays originated in a representation by the commanding officer of forces stationed in the neighbourhood.
Held: . .
CitedRex v Burnley Justices ex parte Longmore 1916
Where unreasonable conditions have been imposed on a licence, the party claiming to be aggrieved has the right to take the issue to the court. . .
CitedRex v London County Counci, ex parte London and Provincial Electric Theatres LD 1915
. .
CitedEllis v Dubowski 1921
A complaint was made that the local authority had added an unlawful condition to a licence it had granted.
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CitedRoberts v Hopwood HL 1925
The district auditor for Poplar Council had surcharged council members for making payments of a minimum wage of andpound;4 a week to their lowest grade of workers. This was notwithstanding that the cost of living had fallen during the year from 176% . .

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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Administrative, Judicial Review, Licensing, Local Government

Leading Case

Updated: 09 May 2022; Ref: scu.179730