• In the case of Carltona v Commissioners of works 1943 2 All Er 560 the “Carltona doctrine” was made.
  • This doctrine expresses the idea that, in the United Kingdom law, the acts of government departmental officials are synonymous with the actions of the minister in charge of that department.

Facts of the Case

  • The appellant company (C) appealed against a decision dismissing a writ against the Commissioners of Works for requisitioning C’s factory and reallocating its workforce.
  • The Government was faced with a wartime shortage of accommodation and labour.
  • Under the Defence (General) Regulations 1939 reg.51(1) requisitioned a factory owned by C, a food manufacturer.
  • C submitted that (1) the notice was bad as it gave as a reason that the requisition was “essential in the national interest” whereas such wording was not contained in the Regulation; (2) the requisitioning authority had failed to properly consider each alternative head individually;(3) the decision was one that no requisitioning authority could have come to.  

Issues in Carltona v Commissioners of works 1943 2 All Er 560

  • Could the Minister delegate its power to an official within the Ministry of Works and Planning.

Held by Court of Appeal

  • Appeal dismissed.

Lord Greene MR

  • The notice was not mandatory and the evidence of the assistant secretary to whom the decision had been delegated, was that its wording was a comprehensive phase used as shorthand for the actual text of the Regulation.
  • In the absence of bad faith, no court could interfere with the discretion of the executive to make decisions under legislation authorised by Parliament. The court was confided to ensuring that the power that the executive claimed to exercise was legitimately given by the legislature and to establish that power had been exercised in good faith.
  • “In the administration of government in this country the functions which are given to ministers (and constitutionally properly given to ministers because they are constitutionally responsible) are functions so multifarious that no minister could ever personally attend to them. To take the example of the present case no doubt there have been thousands of requisitions in this country by individual ministries. It cannot be supposed that this Regulation meant that, in each case, the minister in person should direct his mind to the matter…”: p. 563

Editor’s Notes

  • This case reaffirms the traditional constitutional theory that officials can exercise discretionary powers on behalf of the minister as they are accountable to the minister; the minister is in turn accountable to Parliament. It is not reasonable or realistic to expect a minister to carry out all the legal duties required of them.