Pickin v British Railways Board: HL 30 Jan 1974

Courts Not to Investigate Parliament’s Actions

It was alleged that the respondent had misled Parliament to secure the passing of a private Act. The claimant said that the land taken from him under the Act was no longer required, and that he should be entitled to have it returned.
Held: When an enactment is passed there is finality unless and until it is amended or repealed by Parliament.
Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest said: ‘It must surely be for Parliament to lay down the procedures which are to be followed before a bill can become an Act. It must be for Parliament to decide whether its decreed procedures have in fact been followed. It must be for Parliament to lay down and to construe its standing orders and further to decide whether they have been obeyed; it must be for Parliament to decide whether in any particular case to dispense with compliance with such orders. It must be for Parliament to decide whether it is satisfied that an Act should be passed in the form and with the wording set out in the Act. It must be for Parliament to decide what documentary material or testimony it requires and the extent to which Parliamentary privilege should attach. It would be impracticable and undesirable for the High Court of Justice to embark on an enquiry concerning the effect or the effectiveness of the internal procedures in the High Court of Parliament or an enquiry whether in any particular case those procedures were effectively followed. Clear pronouncements on the law are to be found in a stream of authorities in the 19th century’ and ‘it is the function of the courts to administer the laws which Parliament has enacted. In the processes of Parliament there will be much consideration whether bill should or should not in one form or another become an enactment. When an enactment is passed there is finality unless and until it is amended or repealed by Parliament. In the courts there may be argument as to the correct interpretation of the enactment: there must be none as to whether it should be on the statute book at all.’
Lord Simon of Glaisdale said: ‘It is well known that in the past there have been dangerous strains between the law courts and Parliament – dangerous because each institution has its own particular role to play in our constitution, and because collision between the two institutions is likely to impair their power to vouchsafe those constitutional rights for which citizens depend on them. So for many years Parliament and the courts have each been astute to respect the sphere of action and the privileges of the other – Parliament, for example, by its sub judice rule, the courts by taking care to exclude evidence which might amount to infringement of parliamentary privilege (for a recent example, see Dingle v Associated Newspapers Ltd [1960] 2 QB 405) . . A further practical consideration is that if there is evidence that Parliament may have been misled into an enactment, Parliament might well – indeed, would be likely to – wish to conduct its own enquiry. It would be unthinkable that two enquiries – one parliamentary and the other forensic – should proceed concurrently, conceivably arriving at different conclusions; and a parliamentary examination of parliamentary procedures and of the actions and understandings of officers of Parliament would seem to be clearly more satisfactory than one conducted in a court of law quite apart from considerations of parliamentary privilege.’
Lord Reid said: ‘The function of the court is to construe and apply the enactments of Parliament. The court has no concern with the manner in which Parliament or its officers carrying out its standing orders perform these functions. Any attempt to prove that they were misled by fraud or otherwise would necessarily involve an enquiry into the manner in which they performed their functions in dealing with the Bill which became the British Railways Act 1968.’ and ‘For a century or more both Parliament and the courts have been careful not to act so as to cause conflict between them. Any such investigations as the respondent seeks could easily lead to such a conflict and I would only support it if compelled to do so by clear authority. But it appears to me that the whole trend of authority for over a century is clearly against permitting any such investigation.’

Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, Lord Reid
[1974] AC 765, [1974] UKHL 1, [1974] 1 All ER 609
England and Wales
ApprovedEdinburgh and Dalkeith Railway Company v Wauchope HL 22-Mar-1842
The company had, under authority of a private statute, built a railway which passed across land belonging to the defendant. They were to pay a sum for the goods carried. At first they sought to collect a toll, but his proved unprofitable. The . .
CitedDingle v Associated Newspapers CA 1961
A defamation of the claimant had been published and then repeated by others.
Held: The court discussed the logical impossibility of apportioning damage between different tortfeasors: ‘Where injury has been done to the plaintiff and the injury . .
CitedLee v Bude and Torrington Junction Railway Co 1871
It was alleged that Parliament had been induced to pass an Act by fraudulent recitals.
Held: Willes J said: ‘Are we to act as regents over what is done by parliament with the consent of the Queen, lords and commons? I deny that any such . .
CitedThe Earl Of Shrewsbury v James Robert Hope Scott And Others CCP 9-Jun-1859
Cockburn CJ said: ‘These observations illustrate the question which is now before us, and make it clear that, if an act of parliament, by plain, unambiguous, positive enactment, affects the rights even of parties who were not before the House (those . .

Cited by:
CitedThe Bahamas District of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas and Others v The Hon Vernon J Symonette M P Speaker of the House of Assembly and 7 Others (No 70 of 1998) and Ormond Hilton Poitier and 14 Others v The Methodist Church PC 26-Jul-2000
PC (The Bahamas) The Methodist community had split, eventually leading to a new Act. Others now challenged the constitionality of the Act, and that lands had been transferred in breach of the constitution.
CitedJennings v Buchanan PC 14-Jul-2004
(New Zealand) (Attorney General of New Zealand intervening) The defendant MP had made a statement in Parliament which attracted parliamentary privilege. In a subsequent newspaper interview, he said ‘he did not resile from his claim’. He defended the . .
CitedHamilton v Al Fayed HL 23-Mar-2000
The claimant MP sued the defendant in defamation after he had alleged that the MP had corruptly solicited and received payments and benefits in kind as a reward for parliamentary services rendered.
Held: Parliament has protected by privilege . .
CitedJackson and Others, Regina (on the Application of) v Her Majesty’s Attorney General Admn 28-Jan-2005
The 2004 Act had been passed without the approval of the House of Lords and under the provisions of the 1911 Act as amended by the 1949 Act. The 1949 Act had used the provisions of the 1911 Act to amend the 1911 Act. The claimant said this meant . .
CitedJackson and others v Attorney General HL 13-Oct-2005
The applicant sought to challenge the 2004 Hunting Act, saying that it had been passed under the provisions of the 1949 Parliament Act which was itself an unlawful extension of the powers given by the 1911 Parliament Act to allow the House of . .
CitedManuel and Others v Attorney-General; Noltcho and Others v Attorney-General ChD 7-May-1982
The plaintiffs were Indian Chiefs from Canada. They complained that the 1982 Act which granted independence to Canada, had been passed without their consent, which they said was required. They feared the loss of rights embedded by historical . .
CitedManuel and Others v HM Attorney General CA 30-Jul-1982
The plaintiffs as representatives of the Indian Tribes of Canada sought declarations that the 1982 Act which provided for the independence of Canada was invalid. They appealed the strike out of their claims, saying that they had not been consulted . .
CitedPrebble v Television New Zealand Ltd PC 27-Jun-1994
(New Zealand) The plaintiff, an MP, pursued a defamation case. The defendant wished to argue for the truth of what was said, and sought to base his argument on things said in Parliament. The plaintiff responded that this would be a breach of . .
CitedChaytor and Others, Regina v CACD 30-Jul-2010
The defendants had been members of the Houses of Commons and of Lords. They faced charges of dishonesty in respect of their expenses claims. They now appealed a finding that they were not subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament under . .
CitedHS2 Action Alliance Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v The Secretary of State for Transport and Another SC 22-Jan-2014
The government planned to promote a large scale rail development (HS2), announcing this in a command paper. The main issues, in summary, were, first, whether it should have been preceded by strategic environmental assessment, under the relevant . .
CitedMiller, Regina (On the Application Of) v The Prime Minister QBD 11-Sep-2019
Prorogation request was non-justiciable
The claimant sought to challenge the prorogation of Parliament by the Queen at the request of the respondent.
Held: The claim failed: ‘the decision of the Prime Minister to advise Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament is not justiciable . .
CitedReferences (Bills) By The Attorney General and The Advocate General for Scotland – United Nations Convention On The Rights of The Child and European Charter of Local Self-Government SC 6-Oct-2021
Scots Bills were Outwith Parliament’s Competence
The AG questioned the constitutionaliity of Bills designed to give effect to two treaties to which the UK is a signatory, and passed by the Scottish Parliament as to the care of children.
Held: The laws had effect also outside Scotland . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.187511