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Report No. 108

2.12. Asst. Custodian v. H.K. Agarwala.-

The respondent, before purchasing a certain property, was informed by the Asstt. Custodian that the property was not evacuee property. But later on the property was declared evacuee property Rejecting the plea of estoppel, the Court1 held:

"We are of opinion that the view taken by the House of Lords2 is the correct one and not the one taken by Lord Denning."3

The view taken by Lord Denning was as follows:

"The Crown cannot escape by saving that estoppels do not bind the Crown, for that doctrine has long been exploded I come therefore to the most difficult question in the case. Is the Minister of Pensions bound by the War Office letter? I think he is."

The views of the House of Lords are expressed thus:

"Lord Simonds: Mr. Lords, I know of no such principle in our law nor was any authority for it cited. The illegality of an act is the same whether or not the actor has been misled by an assumption of authority on the part of a government officer howeve.-igh or low in the hierarchy. I do not doubt that in criminal proceedings it would be a material factor that the actor had been thus misled if knowledge was a necessary element of the offence, and in any case it would have a bearing on the sentence to be imposed. But that is not the question. The question is whether the character of an act done in the face of a statutory prohibition is affected by the fact that it has been induced by a misleading assumption of authority. In my opinion the answer is clearly No. Such an answer may make more difficult the task, of a citizen who is anxious to walk the narrow way, but that does not justify a different answer being given.

Lord Normand: As I understand this statement, the respondents were in the opinion of the Lord Justice, entitled to say that the Crown was barred by representations made by Mr. Thompson and acted on by them from alleging against them a breach of the statutory Order and further that the respondents were equally entitled to say in a question with the appellant that there had been no breach. But it is certain that neither a minister nor any subordinate officer of the Crown can by any conduct or representation bar the Crown from enforcing a statutory prohibition or entitle the subject to maintain that there has been no breach of it."

1. AIR 1974 SC 2325.

2. Howell v. Falmounth Boat Construction Co., 1951 AC 837.

3. Robertson v. Minister of Pensions, (1949) 1 KB 227.

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