Cheall v Association of Professional Executive Clerical and Computer Staff

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
JudgeLord Diplock,Lord Edmund-Davies,Lord Fraser of Tullybelton,Lord Brandon of Oakbrook,Lord Templeman
Judgment Date24 Mar 1983
Judgment citation (vLex)[1983] UKHL J0324-3

[1983] UKHL J0324-3

House of Lords

Lord Diplock

Lord Edmund-Davies

Lord Fraser of Tullybelton

Lord Brandon of Oakbrook

Lord Templeman

Association of Professional Executive Clerical and Computer Staff
Lord Diplock

My Lords,


The facts of this case, which has given rise to acute conflict of judicial opinion in the courts below, are set out in considerable detail in the judgment of Bingham J. reported in [1982] I.C.R. 231–255. In the action the respondent, Cheall, sought a declaration that a letter, dated 30 June 1978, addressed to him by the appellants, A.P.E.X., the trade union of which he had been a member for the last four years, and purporting to give him six weeks' notice terminating his membership, was invalid and of no effect. Bingham J. held the notice to be valid and effective. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, Donaldson L.J. in a dissenting judgment agreed with Bingham J.; but the majority (Lord Denning M.R. and Slade L.J.), although not both for the same reasons, allowed the appeal and granted Cheall the declaration that he sought.


For the purpose of disposing of the propositions of law, some of them far-reaching, that have been advanced on Cheall's behalf at all three stages of this litigation, the essential facts can be stated in summary form as follows, leaving the curious reader to expand the summary if he so wishes by reference to the judgment of Bingham J.


In the early 1970s Cheall was employed at the Vauxhall motor works at Luton as a security officer. He was a member of the Association of Clerical, Technical and Supervisory Staffs (A.C.T.S.S.), a trade union which is itself part of the conglomerate trade union, the Transport and General Workers' Union (T.G.W.U.). Cheall was the secretary of the local branch of A.C.T.S.S. at the Vauxhall works. He became disenchanted with the support that the branch was receiving from A.C.T.S.S. and, on 6 May 1974, together with a number of others he resigned his membership of A.C.T.S.S. On 29 May 1974 he applied to A.P.E.X. to become a member of that trade union: A.P.E.X., who knew full well that Cheall had until very recently been a member of A.C.T.S.S. accepted his application and he became a member of A.P.E.X. By the express terms of his application form he agreed to be bound by its rules.


In accepting Cheall into membership without first enquiring of A.C.T.S.S. whether it objected, A.P.E.X. was acting in breach of a code of conduct governing relations between trade unions that are members of the T.U.C. that is known as the Bridlington principles and is accepted as morally binding upon constituent unions among which both A.C.T.S.S. and A.P.E.X. are included. Complaints by one trade union of breaches of Bridlington principles which involve what is referred to as the "poaching" of its members by another union, if not settled by amicable agreement between the unions concerned, are referred to a disputes committee which is empowered to make an award. A.C.T.S.S. objected to A.P.E.X. having poached Cheall and some eleven other former members of A.C.T.S.S. employed at the Vauxhall works; and after some considerable delay, in February 1976 the T.G.W.U. made a formal complaint to the T.U.C. The complaint came on for hearing before a disputes committee on 17 May 1977. Cheall attended that hearing solely for the purpose of assisting the representative of A.P.E.X. who was presenting A.P.E.X.'s case, and not for the purpose of making representations on his own behalf so far as his personal interests might differ from those of A.P.E.X. He was not invited, nor would he have been permitted by the disputes committee, to do so.


On 20 June 1977 the disputes committee issued its findings and award, of which the relevant part is:

"that A.P.E.X. should have made enquiries of the T.G.W.U. and by not doing so A.P.E.X. therefore acted in breach of Principle 2 of the T.U.C. Disputes Principles and Procedures. The Disputes Committee AWARD that A.P.E.X. should exclude the eleven named individuals and advise them to rejoin the T.G.W.U."


Non-compliance with this award would have exposed A.P.E.X. to sanctions, including suspension from membership of the T.U.C. and the ultimate sanction of expulsion. These are risks which the Executive Council of A.P.E.X. might reasonably think it would be contrary to the interests of the general body of their members to run.


An award of a disputes committee upon a poaching complaint which is upheld, has for many years been in the standard terms adopted in the award in the instant case: the offending union is required to exclude the poached members from membership and to advise them to rejoin their former union. In order to enable it to comply with such an award A.P.E.X., like the great majority of trade unions that are members of the T.U.C. have adopted a model rule recommended by that body in 1956 which forms rule 14 of the rules of A.P.E.X. by which Cheall had agreed to be bound. It reads as follows:

"14. Decisions of T.U.C. Disputes Committee

Notwithstanding anything in these rules the Executive Council may, by giving six weeks' notice in writing, terminate the membership of any member if necessary, in order to comply with a decision of the Disputes Committee of the Trades Union Congress."


It was under this rule that A.P.E.X. terminated Cheall's membership.


The construction of the rule


My Lords, with great respect to Slade L.J. who alone thought otherwise, the meaning of this rule as a matter of construction and its applicability to Cheall after the award of the disputes committee of 20 June 1977 appear to me to be clear beyond argument. There had been a decision of the disputes committee of the Trades Union Congress; the only way in which A.P.E.X. could comply with it was by terminating Cheall's membership; it was therefore necessary to do so in order to comply with that decision. There is in my view no room for ambiguity about it.


Slade L.J., although he did refer to it "as a matter of construction of the rule", relied upon a principle that he considered could be extracted from the speeches in this House in New Zealand Shipping Co. Ltd. v. Société des Ateliers et Chantiers de France [1919] A.C.1, viz. that "A.P.E.X. cannot be heard to say that expulsion of the plaintiff is necessary in order to comply with a decision of the disputes committee of the Trades Union Congress within the meaning of the rule, in a case such as the present where such necessity as there may be has arisen as a direct result of the conscious and deliberate breach by A.P.E.X. of the Bridlington principles in admitting him to membership". But this, with respect, is not construction; "cannot be heard to say" is the language of estoppel; what the learned Lord Justice is really saying is that there is some rule of law that prevents...

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