Regina v Lord Chancellor ex parte John Witham: Admn 7 Mar 1997

If subordinate legislation cannot be construed in a way that makes it compatible with fundamental rights, it will be declared ultra vires. Rules which disallowed exemptions from court fees to a litigant in person on income support were invalid. They infringed the rule allowing access to justice. The common law had given special weight to the citizen’s right of access to the courts, a constitutional right. Access to justice at an affordable price was not just another government service.
Although the right of access to the courts has been described as a constitutional right, ‘the cases do not explain what that means.’ and ‘In the unwritten legal order of the British state, at a time when the common law continues to accord a legislative supremacy to Parliament, the notion of a constitutional right can in my judgment inhere only in this proposition, that the right in question cannot be abrogated by the state save by specific provision in an Act of Parliament, or by regulations whose vires in main legislation specifically confers the power to abrogate. General words will not suffice. And any such rights will be creatures of the common law, since their existence would not be the consequence of the democratic political process but would be logically prior to it.’


Laws J


Times 14-Mar-1997, [1997] EWHC Admin 237, [1998] QB 575




Supreme Court Act 1981 130

Cited by:

CitedRegina (Amicus etc) v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Admn 26-Apr-2004
The claimants sought a declaration that part of the Regulations were invalid, and an infringement of their human rights. The Regulations sought to exempt church schools from an obligation not to discriminate against homosexual teachers.
Held: . .
CitedWatkins v Secretary of State for The Home Departmentand others CA 20-Jul-2004
The claimant complained that prison officers had abused the system of reading his solicitor’s correspondence whilst he was in prison. The defendant argued that there was no proof of damage.
Held: Proof of damage was not necessary in the tort . .
CitedWatkins v Home Office and others HL 29-Mar-2006
The claimant complained of misfeasance in public office by the prisons for having opened and read protected correspondence whilst he was in prison. The respondent argued that he had suffered no loss. The judge had found that bad faith was . .
CitedA, K, M, Q and G v HM Treasury Admn 24-Apr-2008
The applicants were suspected of terrorist associations. Their bank accounts and similar had been frozen. They challenged the Order in Council under which the orders had been made without an opportunity for parliamentary challenge or approval.
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Human Rights, Litigation Practice, Constitutional

Updated: 25 May 2022; Ref: scu.137182