Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom v Department of Health and Social Security: HL 2 Jan 1981

The court was asked whether nurses could properly involve themselves in a pregnancy termination procedure not known when the Act was passed, and in particular, whether a pregnancy was ‘terminated by a medical practitioner’, when it was carried out by nurses acting on the instructions of such a practitioner.
Held: The phrase ‘treatment for the termination of pregnancy’ meant something broader than the act of termination itself. Rather it contemplated treatment that was in the nature of a team effort, covering the whole process designed to bring about a termination.
The Act was a complete description of what could lawfully be done.
Lord Diplock said: ‘What the Act sets out to do is to provide an exhaustive statement of the circumstances in which treatment for the termination of a pregnancy may be carried out lawfully.’
and ‘The policy of the Act, it seems to me is clear. There are two aspects to it: the first is to broaden the grounds upon which abortions may be lawfully obtained: the second is to ensure that the abortion is carried out with all proper skill and in hygienic conditions.’ and
‘I have spoken of the requirements of the Act as the way in which ‘treatment for the termination of the pregnancy’ is to be carried out rather than using the word ‘termination’ or ‘terminated’ by itself, for the draftsman appears to use the longer and the shorter expressions indiscriminately, as is shown by a comparison between sub-sections (1) and (3) of section 1, and by the reference in the conscience clause to ‘treatment authorised by this Act’. Furthermore if ‘termination’ or ‘terminated’ meant only the event of miscarriage and not the whole treatment undertaken with that object in mind, lack of success which apparently occurs in one or two per cent of cases, would make all who had taken part in the unsuccessful treatment guilty of an offence under section 58 or 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This cannot have been the intention of Parliament.’
Lord Wilberforce said, in dissenting: ‘In interpreting an Act of Parliament it is proper, and indeed necessary, to have regard to the state of affairs at the time. Leaving aside cases of omission by inadvertence, when a new state of affairs, or a fresh set of facts bearing on policy, comes into existence, the courts may consider that they fall within the Parliamentary intention, if they fall within the same genus of facts as those addressed. They may also do so if there is a clear purpose in the legislation which can only be fulfilled if the extension is made. How liberally these principles may be applied must depend upon the nature of the enactment, and the strictness or otherwise of the words in which it has been expressed. The courts should be less willing to extend expressed meanings if it is clear that the Act in question was designed to be restrictive or circumscribed in its operation rather than liberal or permissive. They will be much less willing to do so where the subject matter is different in kind or dimension from that for which the legislation was passed. In any event there is one course which the courts cannot take, under the law of this country; they cannot fill gaps; they cannot by asking the question ‘What would Parliament have done in this current case – not being one in contemplation – if the facts had been before it?’ attempt themselves to supply the answer, if the answer is not to be found in the terms of the Act itself.’
Lord Keith said: ”Termination of pregnancy’ is an expression commonly used, perhaps rather more by medical people than by laymen, to describe in neutral and unemotive terms the bringing about of an abortion. So used, it is capable of covering the whole process designed to lead to that result, and in my view it does so in the present context. Other provisions of the Act make it clear that termination of pregnancy is envisaged as being a process of treatment.’

Lord Wilberforce, Lord Diplock, Lord Edmund-Davies, Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Roskill
[1981] AC 800, [1981] 1 All ER 545, [1981] 2 WLR 279, [1980] UKHL 10
Abortion Act 1967, Offences Against the Person Act 1861 58 59
England and Wales
CitedRex v Bourne 1939
An eminent surgeon openly in a public hospital operated to terminate the pregnancy of a 14 year old girl who had become pregnant in consequence of a violent rape.
Held: The court suggested when summing up that there might be a duty in certain . .
Appeal fromRoyal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom v Department of Health and Social Security CA 1981
The College sought clarification of the role to be undertaken by nurses in abortion procedures. Lord Denning MR said: ‘when a pregnancy is terminated by medical induction, who should do the actual act of termination? Should it be done by a doctor? . .

Cited by:
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The claimant challenged the Order as regards the prescription of the morning-after pill, asserting that the pill would cause miscarriages, and that therefore the use would be an offence under the 1861 Act.
Held: ‘SPUC’s case is that any . .
CitedAiredale NHS Trust v Bland HL 4-Feb-1993
Procedures on Withdrawal of Life Support Treatment
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AdoptedRegina v Secretary of State for Health ex parte Quintavalle (on behalf of Pro-Life Alliance) HL 13-Mar-2003
Court to seek and Apply Parliamentary Intention
The appellant challenged the practice of permitting cell nuclear replacement (CNR), saying it was either outside the scope of the Act, or was for a purpose which could not be licensed under the Act.
Held: The challenge failed. The court was to . .
CitedRegina v Burstow, Regina v Ireland HL 24-Jul-1997
The defendant was accused of assault occasioning actual bodily harm when he had made silent phone calls which were taken as threatening.
Held: An assault might consist of the making of a silent telephone call in circumstances where it causes . .
Cited1 Pump Court Chambers v Horton EAT 2-Dec-2003
The chambers appealed a finding of discrimination, saying that a pupil was not a member of the set so as to qualify under the Act.
Held: The barristers set or chambers was a trade organisation, but the position of a pupil barrister was not . .
CitedFitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd HL 28-Oct-1999
Same Sex Paartner to Inherit as Family Member
The claimant had lived with the original tenant in a stable and long standing homosexual relationship at the deceased’s flat. After the tenant’s death he sought a statutory tenancy as a spouse of the deceased. The Act had been extended to include as . .
CitedRegina v Dhingra CC 1991
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CitedQuintavalle v Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority HL 28-Apr-2005
The parents of a boy suffering a serious genetic disorder sought IVF treament in which any embryo would be tested for its pre-implantation genetic status. Only an embryo capable of producing the stem cells necessary to cure the boy would be . .
CitedOxfordshire County Council v Oxford City Council and others HL 24-May-2006
Application had been made to register as a town or village green an area of land which was largely a boggy marsh. The local authority resisted the application wanting to use the land instead for housing. It then rejected advice it received from a . .
CitedHarding v Wealands HL 5-Jul-2006
Claim in UK for Accident in Australia
The claimant had been a passenger in a car driven by his now partner. They had an accident in New South Wales. The car was insured in Australia. He sought leave to sue in England and Wales because Australian law would limit the damages.
Held: . .
CitedH, Regina v (Interlocutory application: Disclosure) HL 28-Feb-2007
The trial judge had refused an order requested at a preparatory hearing by the defence for the disclosure of documents held by the prosecutor. The House was now asked whether a right of appeal existed against such a refusal.
Held: The practice . .
CitedOffice of Fair Trading v Lloyds TSB Bank PlC and Others HL 31-Oct-2007
The House was asked whether the liability of a credit card company under the 1974 Act applied where the contract was performed abroad and subject to foreign law.
Held: The principle which disapplied an English statute in an extra-territorial . .
CitedHM Treasury v Ahmed and Others SC 27-Jan-2010
The claimants objected to orders made freezing their assets under the 2006 Order, after being included in the Consolidated List of suspected members of terrorist organisations.
Held: The orders could not stand. Such orders were made by the . .
CitedBritish Pregnancy Advisory Service v Secretary of State for Health Admn 14-Feb-2011
The claimant sought a declaration that the administration of an abortifacient drug was not ‘any treatment for the termination of pregnancy’ for the purposes of section 1 of the 1967 Act, allowing the piloting and possible adoption of early medical . .
CitedEquality and Human Rights Commission v Prime Minister and Others Admn 3-Oct-2011
The defendant had published a set of guidelines for intelligence officers called upon to detain and interrogate suspects. The defendant said that the guidelines could only be tested against individual real life cases, and that the court should not . .
CitedDoogan and Another v NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board SCS 24-Apr-2013
(Extra Division, Inner House) The reclaimers, Roman Catholic midwives working on a labour ward as co-ordinators, sought to assert a right of conscientious objection under the 1967 Act. The respondents said that only those directly involved in the . .
CitedTrail Riders Fellowship and Another, Regina (on The Application of) v Dorset County Council and Others CA 20-May-2013
The Fellowship had applied for orders upgrading public rights of way. The council rejected the applications saying that the digital mapping software used to repare the maps submitted were not compliant with the requirements of the legislation. They . .
CitedGreater Glasgow Health Board v Doogan and Another SC 17-Dec-2014
Roman Catholic Midwives, working as Labour Ward Co-ordinators had objected to being involved in an administrative capacity in abortions being conducted by the appellants. The Outer House had said they were not entitled to opt out, but the Inner . .
CitedTransport for London v Uber London Ltd Admn 16-Oct-2015
TFL sought a declaration as to the legality of the Uber taxi system. Otherwise unlicensed drivers took fares with fees calculated by means of a smartphone app. The Licensed Taxi drivers said that the app operated as a meter and therefore required . .
CitedLittlewoods Ltd and Others v Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs SC 1-Nov-2017
The appellants had overpaid under a mistake of law very substantial sums in VAT over several years. The excess had been repaid, but with simple interest and not compound interest, which the now claimed (together with other taxpayers amounting to 17 . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Health Professions, Constitutional, Crime

Leading Case

Updated: 22 January 2022; Ref: scu.180052