Madzimbanuto v Lardner-Burke

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Last modified: 12/10/18 Author: In-house law team

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Madzimbanuto v Lardner-Burke [1969] 1 AC 645

Unilateral Declaration of Independence – Illegal – Government – Public Law – Convention – Legal Effect – Parliamentary Supremacy – Sovereignty


At the time of this case, Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing British colony. In 1965, the government unilaterally declared its independence, but this was viewed as illegal by the British government. This meant that the legitimacy of the government was not recognised. The Prime Minister, Ian Smith, dismissed the members but they still acted as the Southern Rhodesian government against this order. The complainant in this case was detained under Emergency Power Regulations, which were enacted before this situation occurred. Although they expired in 1965, the regulation was extended by the Southern Rhodesian government, which kept the complainant detained.


The issue for the Privy Council concerned the legality of the Emergency Power Regulations that was prolonged by the Southern Rhodesian government and whether the complainant was lawfully detained. In addition, whether a convention meant that the UK Parliament could only legislate with the consent of the government when it concerned matters relevant to the Legislative Assembly.


It was held that the Emergency Power Regulations and detention of the complainant were unlawful. The unilateral declaration of independence by the Southern Rhodesian government had been invalid, as the country was a British colony and it had not been recognised. This meant that the government could not pass laws and the prolonged Emergency Power Regulations were not valid, due to the UK’s sovereignty over the colony. Lord Reid stated that the powers over the colony were the same strength of the powers exercised and enjoyed in the UK.

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