British Railways v Pickin

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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British Railways Board v Pickin [1974] AC 765

Validity of statute; private Act

(274 words)


A private Act of Parliament from 1836 said that if a railway line was abandoned, the land beneath the tracks should become the property of the owners of the adjoining lands. Another private Act in 1845 followed the same pattern. The railway lines in question later became the property of the British Railways Board who promoted another private Act, the British Railways Act 1968. The latter Act cancelled the 1836 Act and put the lands beneath the abandoned track in the hands of the Board. Pickin purchased land adjoining the land where the abandoned track lay.


Pickin sued the Board claiming that, based on the 1836 Act, part of the land beneath the abandoned track was lawfully his. The Board in turn argued that the 1968 Act – which in fact was promoted by the Board – invalidated the 1836 Act and that the land in question thus belonged to the Board. Pickin then raised the argument that the Board had misled Parliament by way of a false recital in 1968 private Act’s preamble.


The House of Lords held that courts had to consider and apply Acts of Parliament. Thus, the validity of an Act could not be lawfully attacked by claiming that Parliament was misled (either by fraud or otherwise) during the course of the enacting of a piece of legislation. A claimant’s claim in equity could also not be based on the allegation that he suffered damage because of the fact that Parliament was misled by the other party. The courts should not interfere with or adjudicate how Parliament exercised its function when making its decision on a piece of legislation.

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