Parliamentary Sovereignty cases

Subscribe on YouTube

I help people navigate their law degrees

🎓 Simple and digestible information on studying law effectively.

🎬 One new video every week (I accept requests and reply to everything!)

📚 FREE courses, content, and other exciting giveaways.

Gareth Evans' personal youtube channel

Pickin v British Railways Board [1974] AC 765

Facts: This case involved an old railway track. Parliament passed a law that if a track falls into disuse the adjoining land owners could get the land back. The law then changed - it won’t be the neighbouring land owners who get the land, but the British Railways Board will get the land according to a private law passed in 1968. Pickin wanted the court to say the newer act was ineffective because of the way in which it was passed.

Held: The courts could not interfere with the sovereignty of Parliament—its role is to apply the law of Parliament and not to question the manner in which Parliament makes law. So the claim was rejected

R (Jackson) v Attorney General [2005] UKHL 56

A legal challenge was lodged against the validity of the Hunting Act 2004, which criminalised the hunting of foxes with dogs. The claimants sought to have the Act quashed: this isn’t permitted in common law so this would be achieved through designating the Act as a piece of secondary or delegated legislation which may be quashed. The claimants argued the the Act was secondary or delegated legislation (i.e. not primary legislation—an ‘Act of Parliament’) because it had been passed using the Parliament Act 1911 as amended by the Parliament Act 1949

The Parliament Act 1911 allows for the House of Commons to force through most (but not all) types of primary legislation without the consent of the House of Lords. The power of the House of Lords would be limited to that of delay: it could delay the Bill until the third parliamentary session or year of the Bill being heard

The Parliament Act 1949 sought to reduce the power of delay by a further year: it would now be possible for the House of Commons to bypass the Lords over two parliamentary sessions (technically reducing the delay to little more than a year). However, the Lords did not consent to such a reduction in their powers - so the Parliament Act 1911 was invoked to pass the 1949 Act, i.e. without the consent of the Lords they allowed the 1949 Act to be passed to reduce their power

The claimants argued the 1949 Act was not a valid Act of Parliament, since the 1911 Act never envisaged that it would be use to amend its own terms i.e. they never thought they would use the 1911 Act to amend the 1911 Act. Consequently, they argued any Act passed after 1949 using the Parliament Act (as amended by the 1949 Act) would not be a valid Act of Parliament.

  • If the court had agreed with this argument then all the legislation using 1949 act would be deemed invalid – as such, 4 laws had been passed using the 1949 act → the war crimes act 1991, statute regulating elections to European Parliament (European Parliament Elections Act 1999), statute regulating age of consent for homosexuals (Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000), and the Hunting Act 2004

Following existing precedent (such as Pickin v British Railways Board [1974]), the sovereignty of Parliament was ‘recognised’ by the court. The 1949 Act, as well as the Hunting Act 2004, were deemed to be valid Acts of Parliament. The court evidenced a great deal of deference towards Parliament—particularly in respect of Parliament’s ability to decide how it conducts itself and decides how an Act of Parliament may be lawfully enacted

  • So the court were clearly not prepared to get involved and limit parliament’s power

However Lord Steyn and Lord Hope wanted to emphasise that parliament was not free to do whatever it likes: “We do not in the United Kingdom have an uncontrolled constitution” –per Lord Steyn at [102]

  • “Nevertheless, the supremacy of Parliament is still the general principle of our constitution.” (Lord Steyn)

The Art of Getting a First in Law - ONLY ÂŁ4.99

FOOL-PROOF methods of obtaining top grades

SECRETS your professors won't tell you and your peers don't know

INSIDER TIPS and tricks so you can spend less time studying and land the perfect job

We work really hard to provide you with incredible law notes for free...

The proceeds of this eBook helps us to run the site and keep the service FREE!