Attorney General v Blake [2000]

Attorney General v Blake [2000] UKHL 45, [2001] 1 AC 268 is a landmark decision in English contract law that deals with the issue of damages for breach of contract.

The central figure in this case is George Blake, a former member of the Secret Intelligence Service, who violated his employment contract by disclosing confidential information about his espionage activities to the Soviet Union. The British government sought damages for all profits Blake earned from publishing a book detailing his covert operations.

The crucial legal principle established by the House of Lords in this case is the concept of restitutionary damages. The court ruled that in exceptional circumstances, where conventional remedies such as damages, specific performance, or injunctions are inadequate, the court has the authority to award restitutionary damages. Restitutionary damages, in this context, involve the defendant being obligated to account for all profits derived from the breach of contract.

The breach of confidentiality by Blake was considered a grave violation of his contractual obligations, leading the court to conclude that the Crown had a legitimate interest in preventing him from financially benefiting from the disclosure of sensitive state information. The nature of Blake's actions, including his double agency and the potential harm to public interest, contributed to the court characterising this case as exceptional.

Lord Nicholls, in delivering his judgment, outlined various factors that should be considered when determining the appropriateness of restitutionary damages. These factors include the subject matter of the contract, the purpose of the breached contractual provision, the circumstances surrounding the breach, and the consequences of the breach. The court must assess whether the plaintiff had a legitimate interest in preventing the defendant from profiting from the breach.

Lord Steyn emphasised the analogy between Blake's case and that of fiduciaries, suggesting that if the disclosed information were still confidential, Blake would have been treated as a fiduciary. He highlighted the flexible and case-by-case nature of the common law, emphasising its commitment to achieving practical justice.

However, a dissenting opinion by Lord Hobhouse challenged the majority's stance. He argued that the Crown had no proprietary right to the money earned by Blake and, therefore, restitutionary damages were inappropriate. According to Lord Hobhouse, compensatory damages should suffice for a breach of contract, and the Crown's claim appeared to be more punitive than compensatory.

In summary, this case is noteworthy for recognising the availability of restitutionary damages in exceptional cases where traditional remedies prove insufficient. The decision underscores the importance of protecting confidential information, particularly in matters of national security, and demonstrates the judiciary's commitment to adapting legal principles to ensure practical justice on a case-by-case basis.
Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.