Attorney-General v De Keyser's Royal Hotel [1920] AC 508

Considered the circumstances in which statutes may operate to fetter prerogative powers.

Facts

The claimants, De Keyser’s Royal Hotel, were the owners of a London Hotel that had been used by some members of the armed forces in World War One, and they thus sought reasonable compensation for this occupation under the Defence Act 1842. The defendants, the Government, attempted to reject this claim, asserting that their duty to defend the realm, as per prerogative powers and the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, meant they had no obligation to compensate the claimants.

Issues

Whether the Government’s prerogative powers to protect the realm authorised them to evade statutory responsibilities.

Held

At first instance, the High Court found for the Attorney-General, a verdict which was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal and upheld by the House of Lords. The Lords held that the prerogative vested in the Crown and Parliament did not allow for the repossession of property from a citizen, even where it related to the realm’s defence, unless the citizen was appropriately and reasonably compensated. Subsequently, it was ordered that De Keyser’s Royal Hotel receive compensation as per the Defence Act 1842.

Significantly, Lord Dunedin remarked that ‘if the whole ground of something which could be done by the prerogative is covered by the statute it is the statute that rules’. Thus, the Court determined that the statute served to temporarily limit the prerogative power, placing it in abeyance, however that this did not amount to a permanent restriction or abolition of the prerogative.

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