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date: 21 January 2020

Wednesbury unreasonableness

A Dictionary of Law Enforcement

Graham Gooch,

Michael Williams

Wednesbury unreasonableness 

One of the common law grounds of judicial review of administrative action, as formulated in the case of Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223 (CA). The term denotes behaviour on the part of a public authority that is particularly perverse or absurd (R v Secretary of State for the Environment, ex p Nottinghamshire County Council [1986] AC 240 (HL). However, recent cases indicate that the standard of unreasonableness may be applied with varying degrees of stringency. In cases involving matters of government policy or public expenditure, the courts are reluctant to intervene and tend to apply a more stringent standard of unreasonableness, referred to as super-Wednesbury. A less stringent standard is applied in cases where human rights are at issue, referred to as sub-Wednesbury (R v Ministry of Defence, ex p Smith [1996] QB 517 (CA)). The term is often used interchangeably with the term irrationality.