Regina v Somerset County Council Ex Parte Fewings and Others: CA 22 Mar 1995

The local authority had accepted the argument that stag hunting was cruel and had banned it from the land it owned in the Quantocks. The ban was challenged.
Held: The ban was unlawful. The decision had been reached on moral, and not on administrative grounds. The purposes it sought to implement were not within the purposes for which the land was held, and so was invalid. As to section 120: ‘At first sight this section has little to do with the present case, since we are not dealing with the acquisition of land but with the management or use of land which the County Council acquired over 70 years ago. But the County Council is a principal council within the statutory definition; we have been referred to no statutory provision or rule of law more closely in point; any other provision, unless more specific, would be bound to require powers to be exercised for the public good; and it seems perhaps reasonable to accept that the purposes for which land may be required are or may often be those to which the land should be applied after acquisition.’ Section 120(1)(b) was the statutory authority for the power of a council to manage its land and accordingly set out the criteria by which the land was to be managed. Sir Thomas Bingham MR emphasised that it was critical to distinguish between the legal position of the private landowner and that of a landowning local authority:- ‘To the famous question asked by the owner of the vineyard (‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? St Matthew, chapter 20 verse 15) the modern answer would be clear: ‘Yes, subject to such regulatory and other constraints as the law imposes’ but if the same question were posed by a local authority the answer would be different. It would be: ‘No, it is not lawful for you to do anything save what the law expressly or impliedly authorises. You enjoy no unfettered discretions. There are legal limits to every power you have.’
and ‘The point is often made that unelected, unrepresentative judges have no business to be deciding questions of potentially far reaching social concern which are more properly the preserve of elected representatives at a national or local level….The court has no role whatever as an arbiter between those who condemn hunting as barbaric and cruel and those who support it as a traditional country sport…..This is of course a question on which most people hold views one way or the other. But our personal views are wholly irrelevant to the drier and more technical question which the court is obliged to answer. That is whether the County Council acted lawfully in making the decision it did on the grounds it did.’
Swinton Thomas LJ:- ‘Whereas the provisions of Section 120(1)(b) of the Act of 1972 are entirely apt to a decision to acquire land, they are, in my judgment singularly inapt to decisions taken in relation to management of land, and this causes difficulty in resolving the question that arises on this appeal.’


Sir Thomas Bingham MR, Simon Brown LJ


Gazette 26-Apr-1995, Times 23-Mar-1995, Independent 22-Mar-1995, [1995] 1 WLR 1037, [1995] EWCA Civ 24, (1995) 7 Admin LR 761, [1995] 3 All ER 20




Local Government Act 1972 120(1)(b), Open Spaces Act 1906 10, Countryside Act 1968 11


England and Wales


Appeal fromRegina v Somerset County Council ex parte Fewings and Others QBD 10-Feb-1994
A Local Authority could include ethical considerations in making a decision to ban hunting over land which it owned if the power which it sought to use was in the Act. . .

Cited by:

CitedBath and North East Somerset Council v HM Attorney General, The Treasury Solicitor (Bona Vacantia) ChD 31-Jul-2002
Land was conveyed to the Council’s predecessor on condition that it be left available for use for sports and similar recreations, and left as an open space. It was now sought to develop the land as a home for a football club. The Council sought . .
CitedRegina on the Application of Dart Harbour and Navigation Authority v the Secretary of State for Transport Local Government and the Regions QBD 26-Jun-2003
Captain Wyatt owned land near the harbour and wanted to moor his boat by it. The Harbour authority said he needed a licence. The Harbour authority requested him to move the boat as a danger to navigation. The Captain sought a judicial review of the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Local Government, Land, Animals

Updated: 19 May 2022; Ref: scu.88074