In brief

The historical case of Associated Provincial Picture Houses Limited v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223 concerned an appeal by Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd (Associated) to the Court of Appeal (of England and Wales) against an application for a declaration that a condition imposed by the Wednesbury Corporation (Wednesbury) had been imposed unreasonably or in circumstances where the imposition was ultra vires. 


Section 1(1) of the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932 (UK) allowed a licencing authority to grant a licence for the giving of performances on a Sunday "subject to such conditions as the licencing authority think fit to impose".

Wednesbury was the relevant licencing authority under the Cinematograph Act 1909 (UK) and could grant a licence under section 1(1) of the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932 (UK). Associated owned a cinema and sought a licence for Sunday performances. 

Wednesbury granted a licence to Associated for the giving of performances on Sunday, subject to the following condition: 

"No children under the age of fifteen years shall be admitted to any entertainment, whether accompanied with an adult or not."

The principles upon which a discretion must be exercised

The Court noted the broad discretion given by the language of the section in respect of Wednesbury's ability to impose any condition they thought fit, and the lack of any appeal rights in respect of the decision. 

The Court concluded that a discretion such as the discretion of the licencing authority could not be questioned in a court of law unless the discretion was outside the four corners of the principles within which discretion must be exercised. 

The Court set out the principles which the Court could consider as demonstrating that the discretion was outside the four corners of its discretion as follows:

1. express or implied matters within a statute that an authority must have regard to;

2. matters which, having regard to the subject matter and general interpretation of the Act, must not be taken into account;

3. other elements such as bad faith, dishonesty, disregard of public policy and unreasonableness. 

Court decided that the condition was not reasonable

Associated argued that the condition was unreasonable and therefore ultra vires. Associated argued that Wednesbury was unreasonable because it was not competent by disallowing children. The Court disagreed, as the Court considered that the condition related to the well-being and physical and mental health of children, which was a matter that an authority such as Wednesbury could properly consider. 

The Court noted that it was not for the Court to decide the correctness of the one view or another, such as whether children should or should not be admitted, but to investigate if the relevant authority acted within the four corners of its jurisdiction in considering the matter. Where an authority had considered a matter within its jurisdiction, but nevertheless reached a result that was so absurd that no reasonable authority could have imposed it, the Court noted that it was also entitled to intervene. 

As Wednesbury had considered a matter germane to the opening of cinemas on Sunday, being the health and wellbeing of children, and the result was not so absurd to be such that no reasonable authority could have imposed it, the Court determined that the condition was not unreasonable or ultra vires. 


The appeal was dismissed by majority and costs awarded to Associated. 

The principles found in this case have been considered and generally adopted by the High Court of Australia, and forms the basis of the Wednesbury Unreasonableness test, which determines whether a decision was so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could ever have come to it.

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.

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