AG v Jonathan Cape [1976]

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AG v Jonathan Cape [1976] QB 752



Between 1964 and 1970 a Cabinet Minister, with the knowledge of his Cabinet colleagues, kept a diary recording Cabinet discussions and political events with a view to their publication as a book. Following his death in April 1974, volume one was sent to the Secretary of the Cabinet for his approval but was rejected on the ground that publication was against the public interest in that the doctrine of collective responsibility would be harmed by the disclosure of details of Cabinet discussions. In January 1975, the first extracts from the book were published in the “Sunday Times” without the consent of the Secretary of the Cabinet. The Attorney-General applied for injunctions against the publishers to restrain publication of the book in the public interest.


The principal issue which fell to be resolved was whether the constitutional convention of collective responsibility would be violated by the publication of confidential discussions disclosed in private by Cabinet Ministers, particularly where a significant amount of time had elapsed between the discussions themselves and the point at which they would be made public.


The court held, refusing the applications, that the doctrine of collective responsibility could be prejudiced by disclosure of information given in confidence and that the court had the power to restrain such disclosure. However, in the present case the public interest did not require such restraint by the court as ten years had elapsed since the events recorded and the disclosure of such events would not prejudice the future operation of collective responsibility or inhibit free discussion in Cabinet. Moreover, there was no power in the court to restrain disclosure of advice given by civil servants or of opinions expressed as to the ability of such civil servants.

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