Monday 5 October 2009

The GCHQ Case

Just before Christmas 1983, Mrs Thatcher - who was hostile to Trade Unions - ordered that the terms and conditions of civil servants working at GCHQ be revised so as to exclude membership of any trade union other than a departmental staff association approved by the director of GCHQ.

The Unions, representing their members who faced a stark choice - quit their union - or give up their job - brought an action for Judicial Review. They were challenging the decision of the Minister (in this case the Prime Minister) to alter the terms of conditions of the staff at GCHQ. The power to make that decision arose not from statute, but was part of the Royal Prerogative.

Full judgment available here

The decision is important for a number of reasons -

  • It establishes that decisions taken under the Royal Prerogative can be subject to Judicial Review
  • It sets out the three headings of Judicial Review (Illegality; Irrationality & Procedural Impropriety) - [a fourth 'Breach of Convention Right' results from the Human Rights Act 1998]
  • National Security can override other rights