Watkins 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 established in three prison officers. In one case the officer opened the letter in front of the claimant despite his protests and invited him to ‘tell it to John Major’.
Held: The claim failed. The House faced two conflicting principles; that no action should lie without proof of damage and that deliberate abuse of power should be restrained. The case law clearly established however that no action lay in the absence of proof of material damage. If the law was to be reformed it should be done after a review by the Law Commission.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Lord Carswell
Times 03-Apr-2006, [2006] UKHL 17, [2006] 2 WLR 807, [2006] 2 AC 395
England and Wales
CitedTurner v Sterling 1671
The plaintiff complained that his election as one of two custodians of London Bridge, a remunerated office, was thwarted by the malicious and unlawful action of the Lord Mayor. It was an action upon the case.
Held: The action would lie. Wylde . .
Appeal fromWatkins 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 . .
CitedAshby v White KBD 1703
Mr Ashby a burgess of the borough of Aylesbury was deprived of his right to vote by the misfeasance of a returning officer.
Held: The majority rejected the claim.
Lord Holt CJ (dissenting) An action would lie: ‘If the plaintiff has a . .
CitedKuddus v Chief Constable of Leicestershire Constabulary HL 7-Jun-2001
There is no rule of law preventing the award of exemplary damages against police officers. The fact that no case of misfeasance in public office had led to such awards before 1964, did not prevent such an award now. Although damages are generally . .
CitedThree Rivers District Council and Others v Governor and Company of The Bank of England (No 3) HL 22-Mar-2001
Misfeasance in Public Office – Recklessness
The bank sought to strike out the claim alleging misfeasance in public office in having failed to regulate the failed bank, BCCI.
Held: Misfeasance in public office might occur not only when a company officer acted to injure a party, but also . .
CitedWhitelegg v Richards 1823
A debtor had been imprisoned to coerce him to pay his debt to the plaintiff. The defendant, a court clerk, ordered him to be released. The plaintiff said this was ‘wrongfully and maliciously intending to injure the plaintiff’. Abbott CJ recorded: . .
CitedDunlop v Woollahra Municipal Council PC 1982
A plaintiff can allege misfeasance in public office against a body such as a local authority or a government ministry. The tort was well establshed. . .
CitedHenly v Lyme Corporation 1828
The plaintiff owned property by the sea. It was swamped by the tide because the corporation, who had been granted land by the Crown subject to a condition that it maintain the sea-defences of the cob, had ‘wrongfully and unjustly intending to . .
CitedFarrington v Thomson and Bridgland 1959
(Supreme Court of Victoria) Smith J said: ‘Proof of damage is, of course, necessary in addition. In my view, therefore, the rule should be taken to go this far at least, that if a public officer does an act which, to his knowledge, amounts to an . .
MentionedTampion v Anderson 1973
(Full Court of Victoria) . .
CitedRogers v Rajendro Dutt PC 1860
The plaintiff’s claim failed because the conduct complained of had not been wrongful. Dr Lushington, giving the judgment of the Board, said: ‘For if the act which he [the defendant] did was in itself wrongful, as against the Plaintiffs, and produced . .
CitedDavis v Bromley Corporation CA 1907
The plaintiff had submitted building plans for the defendant’s approval, which were refused for alleged non-compliance with by-laws. The Plaintiff contended that the plans complied with the by-laws and that the rejection was not bona fide.
CitedBrasyer v Maclean PC 1875
(New South Wales) A false return was made by a sheriff which led to the arrest of the plaintiff and his attachment for 24 hours. The court had non-suited the plaintiff since no malice had been shown.
Held: The appeal succeeded. It was . .
CitedNorthern Territory v Mengel 1995
(High Court of Australia) The court considered the ingredients of the tort of misfeasance in public office.
Held: A necessary ingredient was proof of loss. . .
CitedThree Rivers District Council v Bank of England QBD 22-Apr-1996
In an allegation of misfeasance in public office, a complainant who says he has been affected by the alleged misfeasance, has sufficient locus standi to claim. Parliamentary materials are admissible to discover purpose of an Act, and not just in . .
CitedGarrett v Attorney-General 1997
(New Zealand Court of Appeal) Mr Garrett claimed damages for financial loss and damage to her reputation caused by the alleged failure of the police to investigate her complaint that she had been raped by a police constable in a police station.
CitedRegina v Secretary of State Home Department, ex parte Leech (No 2) CA 20-May-1993
Prison rules were ultra vires in so far as they provided for reading letters between prisoners and their legal advisers. Every citizen has a right of unimpeded access to the court. A prisoner’s unimpeded access to a solicitor for the purpose of . .
CitedJD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust and others HL 21-Apr-2005
Parents of children had falsely and negligently been accused of abusing their children. The children sought damages for negligence against the doctors or social workers who had made the statements supporting the actions taken. The House was asked if . .
MentionedRawlinson v Rice 1997
(New Zealand Court of Appeal) The plaintiff asserted that a non-molestation order had been made against him by the defendant District Court Judge without jurisdiction and in breach of natural justice. He sued, in tort, for misfeasance in public . .
CitedAttorney General’s Reference (No 3 of 2003) CACD 7-Apr-2004
Police Officers had been acquitted of misconduct in public office. They had stood by in a police station custody suite as a prisoner lay on the floor and died.
Held: The trial took place before R -v- G which had overruled Caldwell. The . .
CitedBB v United Kingdom ECHR 2004
If the evidence showed an egregious and deliberate abuse of power by a public officer the Strasbourg court may award compensation for non-pecuniary loss even though its practice is not to award exemplary damages. . .
CitedRegina 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 . .
CitedOdhavji Estate v Woodhouse 2003
(Supreme Court of Canada) The court reviewed the ingredients of misfeasance in public office.
Held: Iacobucci J said: ‘To summarize, I am of the opinion that the tort of misfeasance in a public office is an intentional tort whose . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex Parte Pierson HL 24-Jul-1997
The Home Secretary may not later extend the tariff for a lifer, after it had been set by an earlier Home Secretary, merely to satisfy needs of retribution and deterrence: ‘A power conferred by Parliament in general terms is not to be taken to . .
CitedRegina (Daly) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 23-May-2001
A prison policy requiring prisoners not to be present when their property was searched and their mail was examined was unlawful. The policy had been introduced after failures in search procedures where officers had been intimidated by the presence . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for The Home Department Ex Parte Simms HL 8-Jul-1999
Ban on Prisoners talking to Journalists unlawful
The two prisoners, serving life sentences for murder, had had their appeals rejected. They continued to protest innocence, and sought to bring their campaigns to public attention through the press, having oral interviews with journalists without . .
CitedMortensen v Peters 1906
The Danish master of a Norwegian steam-trawler was prosecuted for using a particular method of fishing in the Moray Firth. He argued that, although the statute banning the method would have caught a British fisherman, it should be construed as . .
CitedGreenfield, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 16-Feb-2005
The appellant had been charged with and disciplined for a prison offence. He was refused legal assistance at his hearing, and it was accepted that the proceedings involved the determination of a criminal charge within the meaning of article 6 of the . .
CitedBlack and Others v The North British Railway Company 1907
The widow and children of man who had been killed while travelling as a passenger on one of their trains claimed damages against the railway company. A court of seven judges was asked to lay down the principles on which on which damages should be . .
CitedWainwright and another v Home Office HL 16-Oct-2003
The claimant and her son sought to visit her other son in Leeds Prison. He was suspected of involvement in drugs, and therefore she was subjected to strip searches. There was no statutory support for the search. The son’s penis had been touched . .
CitedThoburn v Sunderland City Council etc Admn 18-Feb-2002
Various shopkeepers appealed convictions for breach of regulations requiring food sold by weight to be described in metric amounts. They claimed that the Regulations made under the 1985 Act, to the extent that they were inconsistent with it . .
CitedNairn v University of St Andrews HL 10-Dec-1908
Women graduates of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who, as graduates, were members of the general council of their university, sought a declarator that they were entitled to vote under section 27 of the 1868 Act. The section provided that ‘every person’ . .
CitedHunter and Others v Canary Wharf Ltd HL 25-Apr-1997
The claimant, in a representative action complained that the works involved in the erection of the Canary Wharf tower constituted a nuisance in that the works created substantial clouds of dust and the building blocked her TV signals, so as to limit . .
CitedRaymond v Honey HL 4-Mar-1981
The defendant prison governor had intercepted a prisoner’s letter to the Crown Office for the purpose of raising proceedings to have the governor committed for an alleged contempt of court.
Held: The governor was in contempt of court. Subject . .
CitedSmith New Court Securities Ltd v Scrimgeour Vickers HL 21-Nov-1996
The defendant had made misrepresentations, inducing the claimant to enter into share transactions which he would not otherwise have entered into, and which lost money.
Held: A deceitful wrongdoer is properly liable for all actual damage . .
CitedDavy v Spelthorne Borough Council HL 13-Oct-1983
Although section 243(1)(a) provides that the ‘validity’ of an enforcement notice is not to be questioned except as therein provided, the word ‘validity’ is evidently not intended to be understood in its strict sense. It is used to mean merely . .
CitedLeech v Secretary of State for Scotland SCS 1991
The rule which allowed the prisons to read correspondence between an inmate and his legal adviser if legal proceedings had not yet been commenced was upheld as valid. . .
CitedRantzen v Mirror Group Newspapers (1986) Ltd and Others CA 1-Apr-1993
Four articles in the People all covered the same story about Esther Rantzen’s organisation, Childline, suggesting that the plaintiff had protected a teacher who had revealed to Childline abuses of children occurring at a school where he taught, by . .
CitedRegina v Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison, Ex parte Hague, Weldon v Home Office HL 24-Jul-1991
The prisoner challenged the decision to place him in segregation under Prison Rule 43. Under rule 43(1) the initial power to segregate was given to ‘the governor’. The case arose from the fact that the governor of one prison had purported to . .

Cited by:
CitedAshley and Another v Sussex Police CA 27-Jul-2006
The deceased was shot by police officers raiding his flat in 1998. The claimants sought damages for his estate. They had succeeded in claiming damages for false imprisonment, but now appealed dismissal of their claim for damages for assault and . .
CitedKaragozlu v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis CA 12-Dec-2006
The claimant made a claim for misfeasance in public office. The defendant argued that such a claim required proof of special damage. The claimant said that the deprivation of liberty amounted to such damage. Whilst serving a prison sentence the . .
CitedHussain v West Mercia Constabulary CA 3-Nov-2008
The claimant taxi driver complained of misfeasance in public office in the way the defendant had responded to the several calls for assistance made by him to the police.
Held: His appeal against the striking out failed. The damages pleaded . .
CitedHouchin v Lincolnshire Probation Trust QBD 9-Apr-2013
The defendant sought to have the claim struck out. The prisoner said that the defendant’s probation officer had through misfeasance in public office arranged for his transfer back to secure conditions from open ones. The parole board panel had found . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other, Prisons

Updated: 31 December 2021; Ref: scu.239746