Liyanage v The Queen: PC 1967

(Ceylon) The appellants had been convicted of grave criminal offences under laws of the Parliament of Ceylon. The Act under which they were convicted was passed after an abortive coup, and deprived the appellants retrospectively of their right to trial by jury providing for their trial by three judges appointed by the Minister, imposed a minimum sentence of ten years, and provided for forfeiture of their property.
Held: The convictions were quashed by the Privy Council on the footing that the laws offended against Ceylon’s written constitution. It offended fundamental principles which had been inherited into the Ceylon constitutional framework. The Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council, which contained the phrase ‘laws for peace, order and good government’ coupled with the Ceylon Independence Act were intended to and did give the full legislative powers of a sovereign independent state. The Independence Act provided for certain limits on UK legislation which had previously been enacted and for the removal of a bar to enactments repugnant to UK laws.
‘Therefore the legislative power of Ceylon is still limited by the inability (which it inherits from the Crown) to pass laws which offend against fundamental principles. This vague and uncertain phrase might arguably be called in aid against some of the statutes passed by any Sovereign power. And it would be regrettable if the procedure adopted in giving independence to Ceylon has produced the situation for which the appellants contend.
In view of their Lordships, however, such a contention is not maintainable. Before the passing of the Colonial Laws Validity Act, 1865, considerable difficulties had been caused by the over-insistence of a Colonial judge in South Australia that colonial legislative Acts must not be repugnant to English law (‘The Statute of Westminster and Dominion Status’ by K. C. Wheare [the 4th edn, pp, 75, 76, 77 are referred to in a footnote to the report. Sir Kenneth Wheare was a distinguished Rector of Exeter College Oxford] ). That Act was intended to and did overcome the difficulties. It provided that colonial laws should be void to the extent in which they were repugnant to an Act of the United Kingdom parliament applicable to that colony, ‘but not otherwise’ (s.2) and that they should not be void or inoperative on the ground of repugnancy to the law of England (s.3).
‘The essential feature of this measure is that it abolished once and for all the vague doctrine of repugnancy to the principles of English law as a source of invalidity of any colonial Act… The boon thus secured was enormous; it was now necessary only for the colonial legislator to ascertain that there was no Imperial Act applicable and his field of action and choice of means became unfettered.’ (‘The Sovereignty of the British Dominions’ by Prof. Keith [the footnote refers to an edition of 1929, p. 45] )
Their Lordships cannot accept the view that the legislature while removing the fetter of repugnancy to English law, left in existence a fetter of repugnancy to some vague unspecified law of natural justice. The terms of the Colonial Laws Validity Act and especially the words ‘but not otherwise’ in section 2 make it clear that Parliament was intending to deal with the whole question of repugnancy. Moreover their Lordships doubt whether Lord Mansfield was intending to say that what was not repugnant to English law might yet be repugnant to fundamental principles or to set up the latter as a different test from the former. Whatever may have been the possible arguments in this matter prior to the passing of the Colonial Laws Validity Act, they are not maintainable at the present date.’
Lord Pierse: ‘Blackstone in his Commentaries said: ‘Therefore a particular act of the legislature to confiscate the goods of Titius , or to attaint him of high treason, does not enter into the idea of a municipal law: for the operation of this act is spent upon Titius only and has no relation to the community in general: it is rather a sentence than a law.’
If such Acts as these were valid the judicial power could be wholly absorbed by the legislature and taken out of the hands of the judges. It is appreciated that the legislature had no such general intention. It was beset by a grave situation and it took grave measures to deal with it, thinking, one must presume, that it had power to do so and was acting rightly. But that consideration is irrelevant, and gives no validity to acts which infringe the Constitution. What is done once, if it be allowed, may be done again and in a lesser crisis and less serious circumstances. And thus judicial power may be eroded. Such an erosion is contrary to the clear intention of the Constitution. In their Lordships’ view the Acts were ultra vires and invalid.’
Lord Pierse
[1967] 1 AC 259
England and Wales
CitedCampbell v Hall 1774
The appellant argued that, since the Crown had had no power to make laws for the colony of Ceylon which offended against fundamental principles, at independence it could not hand over to Ceylon a higher power than it possessed itself.
Held: . .

Cited by:
CitedChagos Islanders v The Attorney General, Her Majesty’s British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner QBD 9-Oct-2003
The Chagos Islands had been a British dependent territory since 1814. The British government repatriated the islanders in the 1960s, and the Ilois now sought damages for their wrongful displacement, misfeasance, deceit, negligence and to establish a . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Another, ex parte Bancoult Admn 3-Nov-2000
The applicant sought judicial review of an ordinance made by the commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory. An issue was raised whether the High Court in London had jurisdiction to entertain the proceedings and grant relief.
Held: . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 16 August 2021; Ref: scu.186648