Attorney General v British Broadcasting Council: HL 1981

The House had to consider whether a local valuation court was a court for the purposes of the powers of the High Court relating to contempt.
Held: A body, which has a judicial function, was a court, whereas if it has an administrative function, albeit carried out judicially, it would not be a court. Lord Scarman: ‘there is a presumption, albeit rebuttable, that our municipal law will be consistent with our international obligations’
Viscount Dilhorne said: ‘While every court is a tribunal, the converse is not true. There are many tribunals which are not courts, despite the fact that they are charged with dealing with certain matters, and have features in common with courts. The distinction is drawn in this Country between tribunals which are courts and those which are not . . Generally I would say that just because a tribunal has features resembling those of a court, it should not be held to be a court. Tribunals created by or under acts of Parliament are not, as a general rule, courts, unless constituted as such by the act creating them. The only exception to this that I can find is the Lands Tribunal . . Parliament has on occasions enacted that a tribunal shall be a court. When it has refrained from doing so, say in the case of the Lands Tribunal, I am not prepared to hold that a tribunal it has created, no matter how much it resembles a court, is a court . . I think that a distinction has to be drawn between courts which discharge a judicial function and those which discharge administrative ones, between courts of law which form part of the judicial system of the Country on the one had, and courts which are constituted to resolve problems which arise in the course of administration or the government of this Country. In my opinion, a local valuation court comes within the latter category. It discharges functions formerly performed by assessment committees. It has to resolve disputes as to the valuation of hereditaments, while its decisions will affect an occupier’s liability for rates, it does not determine his liability. It is just part of the process of rating.’
Lord Edmund-Davies said: ‘At the end of the day, it has unfortunately to be said that there emerges no sure guide, no unmistakable hallmark by which a ‘court’ or ‘inferior court’ may unerringly be identified. It is largely a matter of impression. My own firm view is that a local valuation court is not such a body. I would add to that, if Parliament had it in mind to bring local valuation courts within the contempt procedure by which the Divisional Court is empowered to protect ‘inferior courts’, it is regrettable that they did not make this clear by legislation, as they have already done in several other Acts of Parliament cited to your Lordships.’


Lord Scarman,Lord Edmund-Davies, Viscount Dilhorne


[1981] AC 303, [1980] 3 All ER 161, [1980] 3 WLR 109


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedAD and OH (A Child) v Bury Metropolitan Borough Council CA 17-Jan-2006
The claimants, mother and son, sought damages from the respondent after they had commenced care proceedings resulting in the son being taken into temporary care. The authority had wrongly suspected abuse. The boy was later found to suffer brittle . .
CitedRegina v Metcalf, Denton, Foster 26-May-2021
Public Inquiry is not In the Course of Justice
(Crown Court at Manchester) A retired solicitor and two retired police officers faced trial charged with doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice. They were said to have proposed alterations to statements of police . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Media, Contempt of Court

Updated: 09 December 2022; Ref: scu.238719

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