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Associated Provincial Picture Houses v Wednesbury Corporation [1948]

Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223, often referred to as the Wednesbury case, is a landmark decision in English administrative law that set a standard for the review of administrative decisions based on irrationality or unreasonableness. The case was heard by the English Court of Appeal in 1947 and later by the House of Lords in 1948. The judgment established the principle of Wednesbury unreasonableness as a ground for judicial review.

The case involved a cinema company, Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd (APPH), challenging a decision made by Wednesbury Corporation (now the Metropolitan Borough of Walsall) to grant a licence for cinema performances on Sundays but with restrictive conditions. APPH argued that the conditions imposed by the Corporation were so unreasonable that they amounted to an abuse of power.

The House of Lords ruled in favour of Wednesbury Corporation and found that the Corporation's decision was not unreasonable to the extent that no reasonable authority could have made such a decision. The Court clarified that for any remedies to be granted against decisions of public bodies, it would have to find that the decision-maker:

  • had given undue relevance to facts that in reality lacked the relevance for being considered in the decision-making process.
  • had not given relevance to facts that were relevant and worthy of being considered in the decision-making process
  • had made a decision that was completely absurd, a decision so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could have possibly made it.

The House of Lords stated that a decision would be considered irrational or unreasonable (Wednesbury unreasonableness) if it is so unreasonable that no reasonable person or authority could have arrived at it. This means that if a decision is within the range of reasonable choices that a reasonable authority could have made, the court would not interfere with it, even if the court would have made a different decision.

The Wednesbury case established the Wednesbury principle as a cornerstone of judicial review in the UK. It set a high threshold for proving unreasonableness, acknowledging that administrative bodies have discretionary powers, and the courts should be cautious in substituting their own judgment for that of the decision-makers. The case remains a leading authority in administrative law, guiding courts in their review of administrative decisions based on the ground of irrationality or unreasonableness.

You can learn more about this topic with our Public Law, Constitutional Law and Administrative Law notes.

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