• In the case of Entick v Carrington (The Case of Seizure of Papers) [1765] 19 St Tr 1029, it was held that the state’s actions will not be permitted unless allowed by the law, the way it is established and defined in the statutory provision by Parliament and common law developed by the judicial system.

Facts of the Case

  • Ds, Nathan Carrington and 3 other men, broke into C’s, John Entick’s, home during which papers, among other things, were stolen and damage was caused.
  • Ds were ordered by the Earl of Halifax who was a Secretary of State, who wanted Ds to find papers that were written by C.
  • C sued Ds for trespassing on his property.


  • In bullet points
  • What was at issue in the case?

Held by the Court of the King’s Bench

  • The Court found in favour of C and held that even though the Secretary of State filed a warrant to Ds to enter C’s property and remove his goods, such actions were unlawful under statute and could not be deemed as legally valid.

Lord Camden

  • Whatever is written in statutory law is the overarching answer. If an act is lawful, it will be found in statute. Where something cannot be found in statute, it cannot be legally justified.
  • “If it is law, it will be found in our books. If it is not to be found there, it is not law.”
  • “A power to issue such a warrant as this, is contrary to the genius of the law of England, and even if they had found what they searched for, they could not have justified under it; but they did not find what they searched for, nor does it appear that the plaintiff was author of any of the supposed seditious papers mentioned in the warrant, so that it now appears that this enormous trespass and violent proceeding has been done upon mere surmise; but the verdict says such warrants have been granted by Secretaries of State ever since the Revolution; if they have, it is high time to put an end to them, for if they are held to be legal the liberty of this country is at an end; it is the publishing of a libel which is the crime, and not the having it locked up in a private drawer in a man’s study.” [283]