R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame

March 05, 2024
Micheal James

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Case Summary:

R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame (1990) stands as a pivotal case in UK legal history, navigating the turbulent waters of conflicting loyalties between domestic law and the supremacy of European Community (EC) law. This case explores the tension between national sovereignty and upholding international obligations, raising crucial questions about legal compliance and the power of judicial review.

Facts of the Case:

  • In 1988, the UK implemented the Merchant Shipping Act, mandating a majority of British ownership and control for ship registration.
  • This legislation significantly impacted several Spanish fishing companies operating in the UK, including Factortame Ltd., who found themselves unable to register their vessels and continue their business.
  • Claiming a violation of fundamental EC Treaty provisions on freedom of establishment and non-discrimination, these companies challenged the Act’s legality.
  • The High Court ruled in their favor, declaring the Act incompatible with EC law, but the UK government appealed.


  1. Supremacy of EC Law: Does EC law prevail over conflicting national legislation within member states?
  2. Balancing Sovereignty and Obligations: How does the principle of EC law supremacy affect national sovereignty and the power to enact domestic laws?
  3. Enforcement Mechanisms: Do individuals and courts have the power to enforce EC law against national authorities?


The House of Lords, siding with the High Court and the fishing companies, issued a landmark ruling:

  • EC Law Supremacy: Within the UK legal framework, EC law reigns supreme, rendering any contradicting national legislation ineffective.
  • Treaty Breach: The Merchant Shipping Act, in this instance, violated core EC Treaty provisions and was therefore invalid.
  • Judicial Enforcement: UK courts hold the responsibility to enforce EC law and, if necessary, grant interim relief to prevent further breaches.

Significance of the Case:

This case profoundly impacted the UK’s legal landscape and its relationship with EC law:

  • Established Primacy: It firmly established the principle of EC law supremacy, mandating national courts to uphold and enforce it even when it contradicts domestic legislation.
  • Judicial Accountability: The case served as a testament to the power of judicial review in holding the government accountable for adhering to international obligations.
  • Legal Landscape Reshaped: This decision paved the way for further challenges to national laws incompatible with EC law, leading to significant changes in various sectors.

Additional Points:

  • Consider analyzing arguments from dissenting judges for a more nuanced understanding of the legal debate and potential concerns regarding national sovereignty.
  • Discuss the subsequent European Communities Act 1972 and its role in incorporating EC law into UK domestic law.
  • Explore the ongoing relevance of this case in the post-Brexit context and its potential influence on future legal debates.


R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame (1990) stands as a cornerstone case, marking a turning point in the UK’s legal history. It solidified the principle of EC law supremacy, highlighting the complex interplay between national sovereignty and international obligations. While the specifics of the case may evolve with political realities, its core principles continue to resonate, reminding us of the importance of legal compliance and judicial oversight in upholding international norms within domestic legal systems.

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All Answers ltd, 'R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame' (Mylawtutor.net, September 2012 ) <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-ex-parte-factortame> accessed 23 April 2024
My, Law, Tutor. (September 2012 ). R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame. Retrieved from https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-ex-parte-factortame
"R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame." MyLawTutor.net. 9 2012. All Answers Ltd. 04 2024 <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-ex-parte-factortame>.
"R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame." MyLawTutor. MyLawTutor.net, September 2012. Web. 23 April 2024. <https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-ex-parte-factortame>.
MyLawTutor. September 2012. R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame. [online]. Available from: https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-ex-parte-factortame [Accessed 23 April 2024].
MyLawTutor. R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame [Internet]. September 2012. [Accessed 23 April 2024]; Available from: https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-ex-parte-factortame.
<ref>{{cite web|last=Tutor |first=MyLaw |url=https://www.mylawtutor.net/cases/r-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-ex-parte-factortame |title=R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame |publisher=MyLawTutor.net |date=September 2012 |accessdate=23 April 2024 |location=UK, USA}}</ref>

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