Law Report: Lack of reasons invalidates decision letter: Regina v Home Secretary, ex parte Nelson - Queen's Bench Division (Mr Justice Pill), 11 May 1994

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A decision by the Home Secretary, dismissing a former police sergeant's appeal against the requirement of his chief constable that he resigned after being convicted of a drink-driving offence committed whilst on duty, was quashed because the letter communicating the Home Secretary's decision failed adequately to address the charge laid before him, or state the reasons for his decision.

The applicant, Robin John Nelson, had been charged with the police disciplinary offence of having been convicted, on 2 July 1991, of an excess alcohol driving offence; but the Home Secretary's letter of 10 July 1992 did not mention that offence, which occurred after 5pm on the day in question, instead devoting space to the applicant's action of drinking at lunchtime, a separate disciplinary offence with which he was not in fact charged, though it formed part of the background facts.

James Lewis (Burroughs, Maidstone) for the applicant; David Pannick QC (Treasury Solicitor) for the Home Secretary.

MR JUSTICE PILL, granting the officer's application for judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision, said the drink-driving conviction was not mentioned or otherwise referred to in the Home Secretary's decision letter. Nor was the action of drinking at lunchtime mentioned in the context of that charge. It was as though the applicant was being charged with drinking at lunch time per se, and for his lack of judgement in driving after.

The applicant was entitled to have set out the Home Secretary's reasoning on the criminal offence for which he was actually being punished.

Moreover, the setting out of reasons in a later affidavit did not save the decision. There might be occasions when an affidavit by a decision-maker could be admissible, relevant or even helpful in considering the decision letter. But in this case the applicant could be concerned with the likelihood of subsequent rationalisation of a decision that had not been properly considered at the time.