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Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223

The Sunday Entertainments Act (1932) regulated the granting of licenses for cinematographic performances to take place on Sundays subject to 'such conditions as the authority thinks fit to impose.' The plaintiff, owned the Gaumont Cinema in Wednesbury. The plaintiff was granted a license for Sunday performances, subject to the condition that 'no children under the age of fifteen shall be admitted ...whether accompanied by an adult or not.' The plaintiffs brought an action in the Kings Bench Division of the High Court for a declaration that the condition was ultra vires and unreasonable. Although that action was dismissed, the cinema owners appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Application; this case concerns how discretion must be exercised reasonably. The legal principle in the case is if an administrative decision is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have ever come to it, then the courts may interfere with it by way of judicial review. Warrington LJ in Short v Pool Corporation gave the example of the red headed teacher, she was dismissed because she had red hair. This is an example of unreasonableness, so unreasonable that it might almost be described as being done in bad faith... if a decision on a competent matter is so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could've ever come to it, then the courts can interfere… But to prove the case of that kind would require something overwhelming, and in this case, the facts do not come anywhere near anything of that kind. (Lord Green at 229-30).

Holding: the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal, finding that there was nothing unreasonable in the decision to restrict children from Sunday performances. Lord Green went on to say that once it had been found that the authority remained within the four corners of it's discretion in making a decision, the court will be unable to interfere with its decision, unless it proves to be a decision so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could have ever come to it. That last ground of review although unsuccessful in the present appeal, has come to be known as 'Wednesbury unreasonableness.'

The problem with this phrase is that it has historically unclear legal parameters (Attorney-General (NSW) v Quin (1990) 170 CLR 1. However these issues were recently addressed in Minister for Immigration v Li (2013) 249 CLR 332 at [68]. 'The legal standard of unreasonableness should not be considered as limited to what is in affect in a rational, it's not bizarre, decision – which is to say that one is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have arrived at it – nor should Lord Green be taken to have limited unreasonableness in this way in his judgement in Wednesbury.'

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