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M v Home Office [1994] 1 AC 377; 3 WLR 433

By Oxbridge Law TeamUpdated 04/01/2024 07:14

Judgement for the case M v Home Office

KEY POINTS

  • To ensure compliance with the law by all individuals and entities, the courts possess authoritative measures, which they can use during contempt of court proceedings.

  • Claiming that there is no authority to enforce the law through injunctions or contempt actions against a government minister in their official role would essentially suggest that the executive branch adheres to the law out of choice rather than obligation.

    • In this context, injunctions and contempt actions can indeed be directed at the minister in their official capacity, and in this specific case, the Home Office, for which the Secretary of State held responsibility, was found in contempt of court.

FACTS

  • M., a citizen of Zaire, sought asylum in the UK in 1990, claiming refugee status. His asylum claim was initially rejected by the Home Secretary. He applied for a judicial review to delay his removal, and it was denied in March 1991. As his date of removal from the UK approached, a doctor's report supported his claims of mistreatment and psychological distress but was submitted late to the Home Office.

  • The Court of Appeal rejected M.'s application to remain in the UK. Efforts to prevent his deportation were initiated, but due to misunderstandings and confusion, M. was allowed to board a plane to Zaire, with a layover in Paris. After landing in Paris, officials failed to meet him as expected, and he expressed his desire to return to the UK.

  • Arrangements were made for his return, but communication was lost, and M.'s whereabouts became unknown. M. then initiated legal proceedings, alleging contempt against the Home Office and the Home Secretary for not complying with the court order to delay his removal. A judge ruled that he lacked the power to find them in contempt but expressed that, if he could, he would have held the Home Office in contempt for not preventing M.'s removal in violation of the court order.

JUDGEMENT

  • Appeal dismissed.

COMMENTARY

  • This case serves as a vital legal precedent, emphasizing the principle that government officials, including ministers, are not above the law and are obliged to adhere to it as a matter of necessity. The decision in this case upholds the fundamental principle of the rule of law and the court's role in upholding it, even in matters involving government authorities.

ORIGINAL ANALYSIS

  • An asylum seeker was being deported from London to Paris to Zaire. During the flight to Paris judge ordered an injunction that Victim be brought back to court’s jurisdiction due to fresh appeal for judicial review of deportation decision. However Home Secretary ignored the injunction, believing it to be beyond court’s jurisdiction to make injunction (he did not even challenge it- merely ignored it).

  • The Judge eventually conceded that the injunction was beyond his jurisdiction and that the Home Secretary was not in contempt of court.

  • HL said that the injunctions were available against officers of the crown and that the Home Secretary was in contempt of court in ignoring them, rejecting the argument that contempt and injunctions did not apply to the crown.

Lord Templeman

  • Said that this would mean that the crown obeys the law by good grace and not by necessity.

  • This was the first time a minister was held in contempt.

Lord Wolf

  • A declaration of contempt against the crown can be made and the punishment will be political (unlike contempt proceedings against an individual in which case the punishment will be legal e.g. prison, a fine, etc.).

  • It is possible to find contempt even where one cannot punish contempt, as in this case.

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