Attorney-General v Jonathan Cape Ltd and Others [1976] QB 752

Joint responsibility; public policy; publication

(256 words)

Facts

A Cabinet minister kept a diary of Cabinet discussions and events with the intention to once publish the contents in a book. After the minister’s death, volume one of the book (Diaries of a Cabinet Minister) was sent for approval to and rejected by the Secretary of the Cabinet. Despite an undertaking by literary executors not to publish the book without prior notice to the Treasury Solicitor, parts of the book were published wihout consent. The Attorney-General applied for an injunction against the publishers.

Issue

The reason for the Attorney-General’s request for an injunction was publishing the book would be contrary to the public interest. More specifically, the doctrine of collective responsibility required details of Cabinet discussions and potential differences to be kept confidential.

Held

The Court held that it had the power to stop the publication of information that was in breach of confidence based on public policy grounds. The preservation of the doctrine of collective responsibility within the Cabinet was held to be in the public interest. Agreeing with the Attorney-General, the Court found that the revelation of individual Mnisters’ views and opinions disclosed within the framework of confidential Cabinet meetings would undermine the doctrine – at least until a certain period time passed. In this particular case, however, 10 years had passed and the volume one did not contain any information that should have remained confidential. Consequently, the injunction was rejected and publication was allowed to go ahead.