Beggs v Scottish Ministers: HL 7 Feb 2007

The claimant, a serving prisoner, had sought to sue the prison authorities for the conditions in which he was kept. He complained that his correspondence with his lawyers had been unlwafully opened by the prison. Repeatedly, undertakings were given by the authorities to the court not to do so, and then broken. The court required various senior government and prison officials to attend court to explain their behaviour. They appealed.
Held: The position of civil servants is not that of employees. They are answerable to the Crown, not an employer. It is the Scottish Ministers, not the civil servants, who are answerable for any breach of the undertaking. This principle applies without exception, irrespective of the various ways in which the breach may attract public criticism or penalty. Civil servants who knowing of an order wilfully acts expose themselves to the risk of contempt. Fairness requires that they must have opportunity to answer the allegation before any steps are taken. Service of the minute alleging breach and the opportunity to be separately represented when answering the allegation are minimum requirements. Neither of those steps were taken in Mr Gunn’s case.
While the court could competently order a senior civil servant to attend court to represent the Ministers, nevertheless, if they were contemplating doing so, the judges should have raised the matter with counsel for the Ministers and should have explained what they had in mind and why.
Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Mance
[2007] UKHL 3, Times 08-Feb-2007, (2007) 151 SJLB 258, [2007] 1 WLR 455, 2007 SCLR 287, 2007 SLT 235, 2007 GWD 5-72
See AlsoPetition of William Beggs for Judicial Review OHCS 23-Sep-2003
The petitioner a prisoner sought an interdict against the respondents requiring them not to open mail he was sending to his lawyers in connection with an action against them with regard to his treatment in prison. . .
See AlsoWilliam Frederick Ian Beggs for Judicial Review of A Decision To Transfer the Petitioner From Hm Prison Edinburgh To Peterhead IHCS 18-Jun-2004
. .
See AlsoPetition To the Nobile Officium of the High Court of Justiciary of William Frederick Iain Beggs HCJ 8-Dec-2004
. .
See AlsoWilliam Ian Frederick Beggs v The Scottish Ministers for Judicial Review of A Decision From Hm Prison, Edinburgh To Hm Prison, Peterhead OHCS 24-Mar-2005
. .
See AlsoWilliam Beggs v The Scottish Ministers OHCS 15-Mar-2005
. .
See AlsoBeggs v The Scottish Ministers SCS 15-Mar-2005
The claimant sought an order finding the respondents to be in contempt of court having repeatedly failed to comply with undertakings given to the court not to intercept privileged mail from the petitioner to his lawyers. . .
See AlsoWilliam Ian Frederick Beggs v The Scottish Ministers for Judicial Review of A Decision From Hm Prison, Edinburgh To Hm Prison, Peterhead OHCS 24-Mar-2005
. .
See AlsoWilliam Beggs v Her Majesty’s Advocate HCJ 25-Nov-2005
. .
See AlsoBeggs (Fe), Re Judicial Review of Decisions and Acts SCS 9-May-2006
. .
See AlsoWilliam Frederick Ian Beggs v The Scottish Ministers SCS 16-Mar-2006
. .
CitedAttorney-General for Tuvalu v Philatelic Distribution Corporation Ltd CA 1990
Where a company is ordered not to do certain acts or gives an undertaking to the like effect and a director of that company is aware of the order or undertaking he is under a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that the order or undertaking is . .
CitedHeaton’s Transport (St Helen’s) Ltd v Transport and General Workers’ Union HL 1972
Injunctions had been granted against the Trades Unions to prevent them undertaking stike action. Proceedings for contempt were brought against the union after blacking had continued, despite the fact that the union through its national and local . .
CitedCarltona Ltd v Commissioners of Works CA 1943
Ministers May Act through Civil Servants
The plaintiffs owned a factory which was to be requisitioned. They sought a judicial review of the lawfulness of the order making the requisition, saying that the 1939 Regulations had been implemented not by the Minister as required, but by an . .
ApprovedGraham v Robert Younger Ltd 1955
The complainer had given an undertaking in proceedings for his sequestration at the instance of Robert Younger Ltd. The company lodged a minute seeking his apprehension for its breach as a contempt of court. The sheriff ordered the apprehension of . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Oladehinde HL 18-Oct-1990
A decision at Senior Executive Officer level was accepted as appropriate in a deportation case. There was an express form of delegation, and acts of the immigration officers required to be regarded as the acts of the Home Secretary.
Lord . .
CitedDavidson v Scottish Ministers HL 15-Dec-2005
The complainant a prisoner sought an order that he should not be kept in conditions found to be inhumane. He had been detained in Barlinnie priosn. The Crown replied that a mandatory order was not available against the Scottish Ministers.
CitedM v Home Office and Another; In re M HL 27-Jul-1993
A Zairian sought asylum, but his application, and an application for judicial review were rejected. He was notified that he was to be returned to Zaire, but then issued new proceedings for judicial review. The judge said that his removal should be . .

Cited by:
CitedClarke v Fennoscandia Ltd and others (Scotland) HL 12-Dec-2007
After being awarded costs in proceedings in the US, the defendants chased the claimant for their costs in Scotland. He sought an interdict saying that the judgment had been obtained by fraud. The defendant had give an undertaking not to pursue the . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 26 October 2021; Ref: scu.248470