R v Home Secretary, ex p Northumbria Police Authority [1989] QB 26

Recognition of the British Parliament’s jurisdiction in permitting any action deemed necessary for the maintenance of the nation’s peace.


Public disturbances some years earlier resulted in the Home Office opting to create a stock of CS gas (commonly known as riot control gas) alongside a store of plastic crowd control batons, for easy access by the authorities in times of need. An internal circular memo stated that the Home Secretary would be authorised to give access to such stores where necessary, which the Northumbria Police Authority contested on the grounds that it amounted to the issuing of ultra vires powers to the Home Secretary, i.e. that they would be empowered to utilise powers beyond that which their position ought entail.


Was the Home Secretary empowered to supply the crowd control equipment in question as part of their greater prerogative of keeping peace within the realm.


At first instance, the Court found for the claimant, with the view being held that prevention and management of threats to the peace did not require such strong Governmental intervention powers. This was overturned on appeal and it was subsequently recognised that Parliament held the prerogative power in determining the nation’s approach to disruption management, which it was entitled to delegate to the Home Secretary. Further, this prerogative should not be viewed as ‘surrendered’ simply because of ‘assent to the modern system of keeping the peace through the agency of independent police forces’ per Purchas LJ.