Regina v Registrar General, ex parte Smith: CA 1991

The applicant was detained in Broadmoor, having been convicted of murder in 1977 and of manslaughter in 1980. He suffered from serious mental instability and psychosis The second killing was of a fellow prisoner whom he believed to be his adoptive mother. From Broadmoor he applied to the Registrar General for access to his birth records.
Held: Sir Stephen Brown (President): ‘It is clear that the facts . . are wholly exceptional. I do not believe that Parliament intended to provide an absolute right to the relevant information ‘come what may’. It was sufficient to disentitle a prisoner from exercising his on its face absolute right to inspect his birth certificate that there was a current and justified apprehension of a significant risk that he might in the future use the information thereby obtained to commit a serious crime.’
Staughton LJ considered the rule of ex turpi causa non oritur actio: ‘The rule is that we must interpret Acts of Parliament as not requiring performance of duties, even when they are in terms absolute, if to do so would enable someone to benefit from his own serious crime.’ and
‘a principle that statutory duties, although apparently absolute, will not be enforced if performance of them would enable a person to commit serious crime or to cause serious harm is fraught with difficulty … Nevertheless, I am persuaded that some such principle exists.’. And
For present purposes, it is sufficient to hold that a statutory duty is not to be enforced if there is a significant risk that to do so would facilitate crime resulting in danger to life. Parliament is presumed not to have intended that, unless it has said so in plain terms. That is as far as I would go in this case. Even so, I fear that other cases may require elucidation.’
McCowan LJ said: ‘the correct formulation of the public policy in this context is that the adopted person will not be permitted to exercise his right . . if there is current and justified apprehension of a significant risk that he might in the future use the information obtained to commit a serious crime.’ and
‘What Parliament must be taken to have intended is that [the Registrar General] should obey public policy as found by the court to exist at the time the matter comes before it. It is not for the Registrar General to weigh up the public interest as against the interests and wishes of the applicant. It is for her only to discover the facts and for the court, as guardian of public policy, to decide whether the Registrar General is justified in withholding the information from the applicant.”

Sir Stephen Brown, Staughton LJ, McCowan LJ
[1992] 2 QB 393, [1991] 2 All ER 88
Adoption Act 1976 51(1)
England and Wales
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for the Home Department Ex Parte Puttick CA 1981
The applicant, then Astrid Proll, fled bail in Germany when awaiting trial on terrorist charges, entered England and under a false name, and married Mr Puttick. She resisted extradition saying that under the 1948 Act she was now a British National. . .
CitedRegina v Chief National Insurance Commissioner Ex Parte Connor QBD 1981
The court was asked whether the rule against forfeiture applied so as to disentitle an applicant from receiving a widow’s allowance when she had killed her husband with a knife. She had been held guilty of manslaughter but simply placed on . .

Cited by:
CitedJ v S T (Formerly J) CA 21-Nov-1996
The parties had married, but the male partner was a transsexual, having been born female and having undergone treatment for Gender Identity Dysphoria. After IVF treatment, the couple had a child. As the marriage broke down the truth was revealed in . .
CitedJ and B CA 7-Nov-2002
The Crown prosecution service sought judicial review of a decision by the registrar of marriages to celebrate the marriage between the parties. He was due to face trial for murder, and she was to give evidence against him.
Held: The registrar . .
CitedSecretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Another v Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council SC 6-Apr-2011
The land-owner had planning permission to erect a barn, conditional on its use for agricultural purposes. He built inside it a house and lived there from 2002. In 2006. He then applied for a certificate of lawful use. The inspector allowed it, and . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 28 November 2021; Ref: scu.235291