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M v Home Office and another [1994] 1 AC 377

Asylum; judicial review; contempt

(282 words)


M was a citizen of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) who arrived in the UK seeking asylum. His repeated applications were rejected, as were his applications for judicial review. Due to a misunderstanding, the judge mistakenly thought that counsel for the Secretary of State had given an undertaking that M’s removal would be postponed pending consideration of his latest application. M was not eventually disembarked from his flight back to Zaire. Learning of M’s deportation, the judge ordered his return. The Secretary of State, convinced that M’s application for asylum was rightfully rejected, applied for the judge’s injunction order to be set aside and cancelled M’s return. M instituted committal proceedings against the Home Office and the Secretary of State for breaching the undertaking not to remove him.


Simon Brown J, dismissing M’s motion, found that section 21 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 kept the Crown’s immunity from injunction, thus, Crown departments, ministers or officials acting in the course of their duties could not be impleaded for contempt of court. The Court of Appeal partially allowed M’s appeal, finding the Secretary of State guilty of contempt of court. Both sides appealed.


Even before the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 came into force, Crown officials could be personally liable for a tort committed or authorised by them, despite the action being carried out in their official capacity. In other words, injunctions can be granted against Crown officials acting in their official capacity – as authorised by section 31(2) of the Supreme Court Act 1981, albeit only in limited circumstances.  Secondly, while the Crown itself cannot be found guilty of contempt of court, a minister in his official capacity can.

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