Chandler (TN) v Director of Public Prosecutions: HL 12 Jul 1962

The defendants appealed from conviction for offences under the 1911 Act. They were supporters of an organisation seeking to prevent nuclear war, and entered an Air Force base attempting to obtain information they would later publish. They pursued a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience. The judge had refused to allow cross examination and evidence concerning the appellants’ beliefs. The Attorney General submitted that since the appellants’ purpose had been to immobilise an airfield, which was a prohibited place, the judge should direct the jury to return a verdict of guilty and that any other verdict would be perverse.
Held: Lord Devlin spoke of the extent to which courts may enquire into the proper exercise of discretionary powers conferred by statute.
Lord Devlin said: ‘It is said that the jury could return only one answer to the question in this case. I must confess that I find it difficult to see how a sensible jury could have acquitted. . But I do not reach such a conclusion as a matter of law and I cannot accept that the judge is entitled to direct the jury how to answer a question of fact, however obvious he may believe the answer to be and although he may be satisfied that any other answer would be perverse. The Attorney-General submitted that, while it is a question of fact for the jury whether the entry was for a purpose prejudicial, once it was proved that the purpose was to interfere with a prohibited place and to prevent its operating, then a judge should be entitled to direct a jury to return a verdict of guilty. With great respect I think that to be an unconstitutional doctrine. It is the conscience of the jury and not the power of the judge that provides the constitutional safeguard against perverse acquittal . . A judge may, of course, give his opinion to the jury on a question of fact and express it as strongly as the circumstances permit, so long as he gives it as advice and not as direction. The trial judge indicated a fairly strong opinion in the present case, particularly at the end of his summing-up, when he hinted to the jury that there was only one verdict that they could in conscience return. But this was not improper, for even in relation to the limited facts which he left for their consideration, he told them clearly several times that the question was for them to answer.’
The side notes in Acts of Parliament are not debated during the progress of a Bill through Parliament, and cannot be amended. Greater caution must accordingly be used before reliance upon them.
Lord Devlin said : ‘There is no rule of common law that whenever questions of national security are being considered by any court for any purposes, it is what the Crown thinks to be necessary or expedient that counts, and not what is necessary or expedient in fact.’

Lord Reid, Viscount Radcliffe, Lord Devlin
[1964] AC 763, [1962] UKHL 2
Official Secrets Act 1911
England and Wales
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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Crime, Constitutional

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.183275