Secretary of State for Home Affairs v O’Brien: HL 1923

The Crown has no right of appeal against the grant of a discharge of a prisoner on a writ of habeas corpus.
The Home Secrtary appealed against the issue of a writ of habeas corpus against him in respect of a prisoner held in Mountjoy prison in the Irish Free State. He had been arrested in London and interned in Ireland, but the appellant had given assurances to the House of Commons that he could request and cahieve his return.
Held: The appeal was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.
A writ of Habeas Corpus is perhaps the most important writ known to the constitutional law of England affording as it does a swift and imperative remedy in all cases of illegal restraint or confinement. It is of immemorial antiquity, an instance of its use occurring in the thirty third year of Edward I. It has through the ages been jealously maintained by the courts of law as a check upon the illegal usurpation of power by the executive at the cost of liege.
Lord Atkinson said that a writ of habeas corpus: ‘operates with coercive force upon the Home Secretary to compel him to produce in Court the body of the respondent. If the Executive of the Free State adhere to the arrangement made with him he can with its aid discharge the obligation thus placed upon him. If the Irish Executive should fail to help him he would be placed in a very serious position. Unless this Executive breaks what has been styled its bargain with the Home Secretary he had, in effect, the respondent under his power and control. It would be rather unfair to this Executive to assume gratuitously beforehand that it would not keep the bargain made with it, simply because that bargain was not enforceable at law.’


Lord Birkenhead, Lord Atkinson


[1923] AC 603


England and Wales


Appeal fromRegina v Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Ex parte O’Brien CA 1923
Mr O’Brien had been arrested in London under regulation 14B of the Restoration of Order in Ireland Regulations 1920 and deported to Ireland there to be interned until further order. A writ of habeas corpus was sought as against the governor of . .

Cited by:

CitedThe Attorney General for St Christopher and Nevis v Rodionov PC 20-Jul-2004
(St. Christopher and Nevis) The government of Canada requested the extradition of the respondent. The Attorney General sought special leave to appeal against the order for his discharge from custody, which had been on the grounds of the prejudice . .
CitedSecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs v Rahmatullah SC 31-Oct-2012
The claimant complained that the UK Armed forces had taken part in his unlawful rendition from Iraq by the US government. He had been detaiined in Iraq and transferred to US Forces. The government became aware that he was to be removed to . .
DistinguishedZabrovsky v The General Officer Commanding Palestine PC 4-Dec-1946
Mr Zabrovsky’s son, Arie Ben Eliezer, a Palestinian citizen, was detained under emergency powers regulations. He was issued with an order requiring him to leave Palestine. He was then transported to a military detention camp in Eritrea. At the time, . .
CitedEx parte Mwenya CA 1959
A writ of habeas corpus might issue to Northern Rhodesia.
Such a writ of should only be issued where it can be regarded as ‘proper and efficient’ to do so. However, it remains ‘the most efficient protection yet developed for the liberty of the . .
CitedSankoh, Re CA 27-Sep-2000
The claimant appealed against a refusal to issue a writ oif habeas corpus on behalf of the Sierra Leonean revolutionary leader, Foday Sankoh, who had been detained in Sierra Leone while UK forces were supporting the national government there, and in . .
CitedBelhaj and Another v Straw and Others SC 17-Jan-2017
The claimant alleged complicity by the defendant, (now former) Foreign Secretary, in his mistreatment by the US while held in Libya. He also alleged involvement in his unlawful abduction and removal to Libya, from which had had fled for political . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Constitutional

Updated: 12 April 2022; Ref: scu.470605