Liversidge v Sir John Anderson: HL 3 Nov 1941

The plaintiff sought damages for false imprisonment. The Secretary of State had refused to disclose certain documents. The question was as to the need for the defendant to justify the use of his powers by disclosing the documents.
Held: The legislation must be interpreted to give effect to Parliament’s intention, even if that meant adding to the words to give that effect. Although Parliament had made the power subject to a reasonable belief they accepted the Home Secretary’s statement that he held such a belief; in otherwise that he believed he had reasonable cause. This was a matter of national security., and it was not appropriate for a court to deal with matters of national security, especially as they were not privy to classified information that only the executive had.
Lord Atkin dissented as whether the defendant should or should not be obliged to give further and better particulars of a paragraph in his pleaded defence asserting that he had reasonable cause to believe that the claimant was a person of hostile associations. One of the pillars of liberty in English law is the principle that ‘every imprisonment is prima facie unlawful and that it is for a person directing imprisonment to justify his act. The only exception is in respect of imprisonment ordered by a judge, who from the nature of his office cannot be sued, and the validity of whose judicial decisions cannot in such proceedings as the present be questioned.’
He discussed the function of judges when faced with claims involving the liberty of a subject: ‘Their function is to give the words [of the Act] their natural meaning, but not perhaps in wartime leaning towards liberty, but following the dictum of Pollock CB in Bowditch v Balchin [1855] Exch R at page 378, cited with approval by my noble and learned friend, Lord Wright, in Barnard v Gorman [1941] AC 378 at page 393: ‘In a case in which the liberty of a subject is concerned we cannot go beyond the natural construction of the statute.’. In this country, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed but they speak the same language in war as in peace. It has always been one of the pillars of freedom and one of the principles of liberty for which, on recent authority, we are now fighting that judges are no respecters of persons and stand between the liberty of the subject and any attempted encroachments on his liberty by the executive alert to see that any coercive action is justified by law.’
Given the public importance of the case: ‘I think the majority of their Lordships… are rather of opinion that it is not a case in which costs should be asked for’. As to the mode of interpretation which tooks words to mean whatever the author meant Lord Atkin condemned it as: ‘when I use a word Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

Viscount Maugham, Macmillan, Wright, Romer LL, Lord Atkin (dissenting)
[1942] AC 206, [1941] UKHL 1, [1941] 3 All ER 338
Defence (General) Regulations 1939, Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 1
England and Wales
CitedBowditch v Balchin 1855
Pollock CB said: ‘In a case in which the liberty of a subject is concerned we cannot go beyond the natural construction of the statute.’ . .
CitedBarnard v Gorman HL 1941
The court considered awarding costs in a judicial review case: ‘There will be no order as to costs in this House, as the Crown has very properly agreed (since this is a case of general importance, and the respondent is a poor man) to pay the costs . .

Cited by:
CitedRegina v Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ex parte DB Admn 17-Oct-1996
Sperm which had been taken from a dying and unconscious man may not be used for the later insemination of his surviving wife. The Act required his written consent.
Held: Community Law does not assist the Applicant. The question had been . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for the Home Department Ex Parte Abdi, Same v Same, Ex Parte Gawe HL 15-Feb-1996
Two Somali nationals were refused asylum and sought to challenge a decision rejecting their claim that to be sent to Spain would be contrary to the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Geneva Convention of 1951.
Held: Adjudicators are . .
CitedCorner House Research, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry CA 1-Mar-2005
The applicant sought to bring an action to challenge new rules on approval of export credit guarantees. The company was non-profit and founded to support investigation of bribery. It had applied for a protected costs order to support the . .
CitedAl-Jedda v Secretary of State for Defence CA 29-Mar-2006
The applicant had dual Iraqi and British nationality. He was detained by British Forces in Iraq under suspicion of terrorism, and interned.
Held: His appeal failed. The UN resolution took priority over the European Convention on Human Rights . .
CitedHaw, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Another CA 8-May-2006
The applicant had demonstrated continuously against the war in Iraq from the pavement outside the House of Commons. The respondent sought an order for his removal under the law preventing demonstrations near Parliament without consent which was . .
CitedRaissi and Another v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis QBD 30-Nov-2007
The claimants had been arrested under the 2000 Act, held for differing lengths of time and released without charge. They sought damages for false imprisonment.
Held: The officers had acted on their understanding that senior offcers had more . .
CitedSK, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department Admn 25-Jan-2008
The claimant was a Zimbabwean National who was to be removed from the country. He was unlawfully held in detention pending removal. He sought damages for false imprisonment. He had been held over a long period pending decisions in the courts on the . .
CitedID and others v The Home Office (BAIL for Immigration Detainees intervening) CA 27-Jan-2005
The claimants sought damages and other reliefs after being wrongfully detained by immigration officers for several days, during which they had been detained at a detention centre and left locked up when it burned down, being released only by other . .
CitedTF, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Justice CA 18-Dec-2008
The claimant had been near to completing a sentence for serious violence. He now challenged the way in which, as his sentenced approached completion, the defendant had sought an order transferring him to a secure mental hospital. He was served with . .
CitedCommissioner of Police of the Metropolis v Raissi CA 12-Nov-2008
The Commissioner appealed against an award of damages for false imprisonment. The claimant had been arrested shortly after a terrorist attack. The judge had held that they had no reasonable belief of his involvement. The Commissioner did not now . .
CitedHM Treasury v Ahmed and Others SC 27-Jan-2010
The claimants objected to orders made freezing their assets under the 2006 Order, after being included in the Consolidated List of suspected members of terrorist organisations.
Held: The orders could not stand. Such orders were made by the . .
Dissenting Judgment appliedNakkuda Ali v M F De S Jayaratne PC 1951
(Ceylon) The section provided that ‘where the Controller has reasonable grounds to believe that any dealer is unfit to be allowed to continue as a dealer’ the Controller could exercise power to cancel the dealer’s licence given to him by the . .
Dissenting judgment approvedRegina v Inland Revenue Commissioners ex parte Rossminster Ltd HL 13-Dec-1979
The House considered the power of an officer of the Board of Inland Revenue to seize and remove materials found on premises which a warrant obtained on application to the Common Serjeant authorised him to enter and search; but where the source of . .
CitedLumba (WL) v Secretary of State for The Home Department SC 23-Mar-2011
The claimants had been detained under the 1971 Act, after completing sentences of imprisonment pending their return to their home countries under deportations recommended by the judges at trial, or chosen by the respondent. They challenged as . .
CitedZabrovsky v The General Officer Commanding Palestine PC 4-Dec-1946
Mr Zabrovsky’s son, Arie Ben Eliezer, a Palestinian citizen, was detained under emergency powers regulations. He was issued with an order requiring him to leave Palestine. He was then transported to a military detention camp in Eritrea. At the time, . .
CitedAA, Regina (on The Application of) v Secretary of State for The Home Department SC 10-Jul-2013
The issue on this appeal is the effect of section 55 on the legality of the appellant’s detention under paragraph 16 over a period of 13 days. At the time of the detention the Secretary of State acted in the mistaken but reasonable belief that he . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Judicial Review, Torts – Other, Constitutional

Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.197896