Duncan v Cammell, Laird and Company Limited (Discovery): HL 27 Apr 1942

Relatives of deceased seamen claimed damages against the defendants after their husbands were lost a sea in a submarine built by the defendants. The Ministry of Defence instructed the defendants not to disclose any details of the boat’s construction, on the ground that it would be contrary to the public interest to produce them.
Held: The Minister’s declaration that national security required non-disclosure was sufficient and binding on the courts. If the Crown made a claim to Crown privilege in proper form, the Courts were precluded from investigating further: ‘This question is of high constitutional importance, for it involves a claim by the Executive to restrict the material which might otherwise be available for the tribunal which is trying the case.’
Viscount Simon LC said: ‘documents otherwise relevant and liable to production must not be produced if the public interest requires that they should be withheld’ and ‘In a word, it is not enough that the minister of the department does not want to have the documents produced. The minister, in deciding whether it is his duty to object, should bear these considerations in mind, for he ought not to take the responsibility of withholding production except in cases where the public interest would otherwise be damnified, for example, where disclosure would be injurious to national defence, or to good diplomatic relations, or where the practice of keeping a class of documents secret is necessary for the proper functioning of the public service. When these conditions are satisfied and the minister feels it is his duty to deny access to material which would otherwise be available, there is no question but that the public interest must be preferred to any private consideration.’

Simon L, Thankerton, Russell of Killowen, Macmillan, Wright, Porter, Clauson LL
[1942] AC 624, [1942] UKHL 3
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedConway v Rimmer HL 28-Feb-1968
Crown Privilege for Documents held by the Polie
The plaintiff probationary police constable had been investigated, prosecuted and cleared of an allegation of theft. He now claimed damages for malicious prosecution, and in the course of the action, sought disclosure of five documents, but these . .
CitedAl Rawi and Others v The Security Service and Others QBD 18-Nov-2009
The claimants sought damages from the defendants saying that they had been held and ill treated at various detention centres by foreign authorities, but with the involvement of the defendants. The defendants sought to bring evidence before the court . .
CitedAl Rawi and Others v The Security Service and Others CA 4-May-2010
Each claimant had been captured and mistreated by the US government, and claimed the involvement in and responsibility for that mistreatment by the respondents. The court was asked whether a court in England and Wales, in the absence of statutory . .
CitedAl Rawi and Others v The Security Service and Others SC 13-Jul-2011
The claimant pursued a civil claim for damages, alleging complicity of the respondent in his torture whilst in the custody of foreign powers. The respondent sought that certain materials be available to the court alone and not to the claimant or the . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Constitutional

Leading Case

Updated: 31 October 2021; Ref: scu.223564