Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corp

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Associated Provincial Picture Houses v Wednesbury Corporation
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.svg
Court Court of Appeal of England and Wales
Decided November 10, 1947 (1947-11-10)
Citation(s) [1947] EWCA Civ 1
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Lord Greene, Somervell LJ, Singleton J

Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd. v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223[1] is an English law case that sets out the standard of unreasonableness of public-body decisions that would make them liable to be quashed on judicial review, known as Wednesbury unreasonableness.

The court gave three conditions on which it would intervene to correct a bad administrative decision, including on grounds of its unreasonableness in the special sense later articulated in Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service[2] by Lord Diplock:


In 1947 Associated Provincial Picture Houses was granted a licence by the Wednesbury Corporation in Staffordshire to operate a cinema on condition that no children under 15 were admitted on Sundays. Associated Provincial Picture Houses sought a declaration that such a condition was unacceptable and outside the power of the Corporation to impose.


The court held that it could not intervene to overturn the decision of the defendant simply because the court disagreed with it. To have the right to intervene, the court would have to conclude that:

  • in making the decision, the defendant took into account factors that ought not to have been taken into account, or
  • the defendant failed to take into account factors that ought to have been taken into account, or
  • the decision was so unreasonable that no reasonable authority would ever consider imposing it.

The court held that the decision did not fall into any of these categories and the claim failed. As Lord Greene, M. R. said (at 229),


The test laid down in this case, in all three limbs, is known as "the Wednesbury test". The term "Wednesbury unreasonableness" is used to describe the third limb, of being so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could have decided that way. This case or the principle laid down is cited in United Kingdom courts as a reason for courts to be hesitant to interfere with decisions of administrative law bodies.

In recent times, particularly as a result of the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998, the judiciary have resiled from this strict abstentionist approach, recognising that in certain circumstances it is necessary to undertake a more searching review of administrative decisions. The European Court of Human Rights requires the reviewing court to subject the original decision to "anxious scrutiny" as to whether an administrative measure infringes a Convention right. In order to justify such an intrusion, the Respondents will have to show that they pursued a "pressing social need" and that the means employed to achieve this were proportionate to the limitation of the right.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Associated Provincial Picture Houses v. Wednesbury Corporation [1947] EWCA Civ 1, [1948] 1 K.B. 223, Court of Appeal (England and Wales)
  2. ^ Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1983] UKHL 6 at para. 410, [1984] 3 All ER 935, [1984] 3 WLR 1174, [1985] ICR 14, [1985] AC 374, [1985] IRLR 28, House of Lords

External links[edit]