Carltona v Commissioners of Works (1943) 2 All ER 560 was a landmark case in English administrative law during the Second World War. The case concerned the power of government officials to delegate their statutory functions to other officials.
The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 was passed immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War. This Act gave the government special powers to take almost any action necessary to carry out the war successfully.
The Defence (General) Regulations 1939 was formulated and implemented through secondary legislation under the authority of the Act. The Regulations authorised the Commissioners of Works to requisition such land as they deemed necessary in the national interests. The Regulations also specified that these powers were exercisable by the Minister of Works and Planning.
The wartime government needed to requisition the factory owned by Carltona for the production of strategic materials and equipment. Unhappy with the requisition order, he raised a judicial review action to challenge the legality of the order, arguing that the requisition order was invalid because it had not been signed by the minister but by an official within the Ministry of Works and Planning.
The appeal was dismissed as the court held that the action of the official was not a delegated act but an act of the minister. The court reasoned that the administration of government is so multifarious that no minister could ever personally attend to every function of his department and that the duties and powers given to ministers are normally exercised under their authority by responsible officials of their respective departments. The court also ruled that ministers are held fully accountable for anything that their officials have done under their authority. This ruling has become what is known as the Carltona principle.
It should be noted that the Carltona principle has been modified by the Supreme Court in R v Adam (2020). Please refer to our Public Law and Constitutional Law notes for details.