Attorney-General v Jonathan Cape Ltd: 1976

The Attorney-General sought restraint on the publication of certain materials in the diary of Richard Crossman, a former cabinet minister, submitting that the protection from disclosure of Cabinet papers was based on collective responsibility.
Held: The court refused the injunction.
There is a specific interest in maintaining the confidentiality of ministerial communications arising from the convention of collective responsibility of Ministers of the Crown, which is that once a policy decision has been reached by the Government it has to be supported by all ministers whether they approve of it or not unless they resign: that convention and the free discussion between ministers may be prejudiced by ‘premature disclosure’ of the views of individual ministers. Lord Widgery CJ said that: ‘the court must have power to deal with publication which threatens national security.’
As regards confidence in publicly owned material: ‘There must, however, be a limit in time after which the confidential character of the information, and the duty of the court to restrain publication will lapse’ and ‘It may, of course, be intensely difficult in a particular case, to say at what point the material loses its confidential character, on the ground that publication will no longer undermine the doctrine of cabinet responsibility.’
Lord Widgery LCJ said: ‘The Attorney-General must show (a) that such publication would be a breach of confidence; (b) that the public interest requires that the publication be restrained, and (c) that there are no other facts of the public interest contradictory of and more compelling than that relied upon. Moreover, the court, when asked to restrain such a publication, must closely examine the extent to which relief is necessary to ensure that restrictions are not imposed beyond the strict requirement of public need.’

Lord Widgery LCJ
[1976] 1 QB 752, [1976] 3 All E R 484
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedMiller and Another, Regina (on The Application of) v Secretary of State for Exiting The European Union SC 24-Jan-2017
Parliament’s Approval if statute rights affected
In a referendum, the people had voted to leave the European Union. That would require a notice to the Union under Article 50 TEU. The Secretary of State appealed against an order requiring Parliamentary approval before issuing the notice, he saying . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Media, Administrative, Constitutional

Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.241360