Prerogative powers of the monarch and government are subordinate to the law of the land: King’s Bench

In the case of Entick v Carrington (1765) 19 St Tr 1030, constitutional implications for common law jurisdictions overpowered across the globe. It’s known for limiting the ability of law enforcement to only act within the law. This case has been described as a ‘great judgment’ and ‘one of the landmarks of English liberty’.


In 1762, the King’s Chief Messenger, Nathan Carrington, and three other King’s messengers, James Watson, Thomas Ardran, and Robert Blackmore, broke into the home of the Grub Street writer John Entick in the parish of St Dunstan, Stepney “with force and arms”. Over the course of four hours, they broke open locks and doors and searched all of the rooms before taking away 100 charts and 100 pamphlets, causing £2,000 of damage. The King’s messengers were acting on the orders of Lord Halifax, newly appointed Secretary of State for the Northern Department, to make strict and diligent search for one of concerned and seditious writing, titled “Scandalous reflections and invectives upon His Majesty’s Government, and upon both Houses of Parliament”. Entick sued the messengers for trespassing on his land.


The trial was presided over by Lord Camden, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. Carrington and his colleagues claimed that they acted on Halifax’s warrant, which gave them legal authority to search Entick’s home and they therefore could not be liable for the tort. In reaching a verdict, the presiding judge, Lord Camden, conceded that the Earl of Halifax had indeed acted as Secretary of State. However, he could not find “no book in the law whatever” that gave the Earl the authority to issue such a warrant in these circumstances. Finding the defendants liable, Lord Camden famously quoted as saying: “if this is law it would be found in our books, but no such law ever existed in this country; our law holds the property of every man so sacred, that no man can set his foot upon his neighbour’s close without his leave”. However, Camden held that Halifax had no right under statute or under precedent to issue such a warrant and therefore found in Enrick’s favour. 

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Reviewed by Anagha K Bharadwaj


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