This summary is for law students studying constitutional and administrative law, focusing on Attorney General v De Keyser’s Royal Hotel [1920] UKHL 1. The case examines the interaction between royal prerogative and statutory rights, particularly concerning compensation when the government requisitions property. It offers insights into the limitations of the royal prerogative when statutory provisions are in place.

  • In the case of Attorney-General v De Keyser’s Royal Hotel [1920] UKHL 1 1920 ac 508, where an area of government power is led by statute, there is no operation of the royal prerogative.
  • The Crown ought to compensate the subjects of the land/buildings they take possession of while defending the realm.

Facts of the Case De Keyser’s Royal Hotel

  • D, the Crown, acting under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, took ownership of a hotel during the First World War to house the headquarters personnel of the Royal Flying Corps
  • C, the owners of the hotel, demanded compensation, which they were entitled to under the Defence Act 1842. The Defence of the Realm Regulations was an amendment of the Defence Act 1842.
  • D asserted that Cs were not entitled to compensation on the grounds that the hotel was taken under exercise of the royal prerogative, which does not attract compensatory matters.

Issues in De Keyser’s Royal Hotel

  • Were the Cs entitled to receive compensation under the Defence Act 1842?

Held by the House of Lords

  • The House of Lords dismissed the appeal and found that the Cs ought to have received compensation as per the Defence Act 1842.

Lord Dunedin

  • Lord Dunedin emphasises that where the prerogative is covered by statute, the statute is the authority that governs matters.
  • “The prerogative is defined by a learned constitutional writer as “The residue of discretionary or arbitrary authority which at any given time is legal left in the hands of the Crown.” Inasmuch as the Crown is a party to every act of Parliament it is logical enough to consider that when the Act deals with something which before the Act could be effected by the prerogative, and specially empowers the Crown to do the same thing, but subject to conditions, the Crown assents to that, and by that Act, to the prerogative being curtailed.” [526]

Lord Parmoora

  • Further emphasis is provided with regards to the power on the Crown to intervene in another’s property matters, which if is led by statute, determines their power and the context. It is Parliament which controls the Royal Prerogative as opposed to the Crown itself.
  • “The constitutional principle is that when the power of the Executive to interfere with the property or liberty of subjects has been placed under Parliamentary control, and directly regulated by statute, the Executive no longer derives its authority from the Royal Prerogative of the Crown but from Parliament, and that in exercising such authority the Executive is bound to observe the restrictions which Parliament has imposed in favour of the subject. I think that the statutory provisions applicable to the interference by the Executive with the land and buildings of the respondents, bring the case within the above principle.” [575]

Significance of the Case on the Development of the Law

The Attorney General v De Keyser’s Royal Hotel case has profound significance in constitutional law, particularly concerning the extent and limits of the royal prerogative powers:

  1. Establishment of Statutory Control Over Prerogative Powers: The ruling solidified the principle that whenever there is a statute covering the same ground as a prerogative power, the statute takes precedence, and the prerogative becomes inoperative. This precedent ensures that the Crown’s actions are bound by law, promoting legal certainty and accountability.
  2. Impact on Subsequent Jurisprudence: This principle has been crucial in later cases. For instance, in Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1985], commonly known as the GCHQ case, the court applied the principles from De Keyser to affirm that prerogative powers are subject to judicial review when they concern rights affected by statutory provisions. Another notable reference is in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017], which held that the government could not initiate withdrawal from the EU under prerogative powers as parliamentary legislation was required.
  3. Clarification of Governmental Powers and Rights: The case also had a lasting impact on how government powers are interpreted in the context of property and compensation rights, as seen in Burmah Oil Co v Lord Advocate [1965], where the House of Lords ruled that the government must compensate for the requisition of property during wartime, drawing on principles established in De Keyser.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below you will find answers to questions that are most commonly asked based on this case.

How does this case influence current interpretations of executive power in non-emergency situations?

Attorney General v De Keyser’s Royal Hotel influences current interpretations of executive power by reinforcing that statutory provisions limit prerogative powers even in non-emergency situations. This principle ensures that any exercise of executive power that overlaps with existing statutes must adhere to statutory requirements, as reaffirmed in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017], ensuring executive actions are always under parliamentary scrutiny.

What are the implications of this case for the balance of power between the judiciary and the executive?

This case underscores the judiciary’s role in maintaining checks on the executive, particularly in ensuring that the royal prerogative is exercised within legal boundaries. The principle that statutory law trumps prerogative powers, established in this case, was pivotal in cases like R (Miller) v The Prime Minister [2019], where the Supreme Court ruled that prorogation of Parliament was unlawful, demonstrating judicial oversight over executive decisions.

In what ways has this case affected the drafting and interpretation of newer statutes that overlap with royal prerogative?

The case has led to more precise drafting of statutes to ensure clear delineation and limitations of prerogative powers, especially in areas traditionally dominated by the executive, such as national defence or international relations. For example, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 explicitly limits the prerogative to dissolve Parliament, reflecting a statutory constraint on executive discretion inspired by the principles from De Keyser.