Attorney General v Blake

Attorney General v Blake [2000] UKHL 45, [2001] 1 AC 268 is a leading English contract law case on damages for breach of contract. It established that in some circumstances, where ordinary remedies are inadequate, restitutionary damages may be awarded.

Attorney General v Blake
CourtHouse of Lords
Full case nameAttorney General v Blake (Jonathan Cape Ltd Third Party)
Decided27 July 2000
Citation(s)[2000] UKHL 45, [2001] 1 AC 268
Transcript(s)Full text of judgment
Case history
Prior action(s)[1998] Ch 439
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingLord Nicholls, Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, Lord Steyn and Lord Hobhouse
Account of profits, breach of contract, restitution


George Blake was a former member of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) from 1944 to 1961. For his employment contract, he had signed an Official Secrets Act 1911 declaration to disclose no information about his work. It applied after his employment ceased. In 1951, he became a Soviet agent, thus, being a double agent. He was discovered in 1961 and the British government imprisoned him in Wormwood Scrubs (HM Prison). He escaped in 1966 and fled to the Soviet Union. He wrote a book about it and his secret services work called No Other Choice. He received a publishing contract for its release in 1989, with Jonathan Cape Ltd. The information in the book was no longer confidential. Blake received advanced payments and was entitled to more. The Crown brought an action for all the profits he made on the book including those that he had not yet received. It argued a restitutionary principle should apply.


Lord Nicholls, Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Browne-Wilkinson and Lord Steyn held that in exceptional cases, when the normal remedy is inadequate to compensate for breach of contract, the court can order the defendant to account for all profits.[1] This was an exceptional case. Blake had harmed the public interest. Publication was a further breach of his undertaking of confidentiality. Disclosure of non-confidential information was also a criminal offence under the Official Secrets Act 1911. An absolute rule against disclosure was necessary to ensure that the secret service was able to deal in complete confidence. It was in the Crown's legitimate interest to ensure Blake did not benefit from revealing state information. The normal contractual remedies of damages, specific performance or injunction were not enough, and the publishers should pay any money owing to Blake to the Crown.

Lord Nicholls said the following.

Lord Goff and Lord Browne-Wilkinson agreed. Lord Steyn gave a concurring opinion.

Lord Hobhouse dissented. He asserted that the Crown had no proprietary right to the money and as such had suffered no loss so as to receive restitutionary damages. Instead, compensatory damages, not a full account of profit, were appropriate.

See also

Termination and restitution cases
Trusts cases


  1. [2001] 1 AC 268


  • World Wide Fund for Nature v World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc [2007] EWCA Civ 286
  • Nottingham University v Fischel [2000] EWHC 221 (QB), [2000] IRLR 471, where an employee was held to be under no general fiduciary duty to refrain from undertaking outside private clinic work, but did breach a fiduciary duty where he had directed junior university staff to assist him in that outside work. The latter created a conflict of interest, whereas the former did not since patients would not have used the University's services.
  • Hospital Products Ltd v United States Surgical Corporation [1984] HCA 64, (1984) 156 CLR 41 (25 October 1984), High Court (Australia), a senior executive of an American company, Mr Blackman, was held liable to pay heavy compensation for breach of contract for copying the invention of the company when he found it was unpatented in Australia. But, the Australian High Court held Mr Blackman (and his company, Hospital Products Ltd) was not liable to disgorge profits unless some "fiduciary" relationship could be identified. Deane J dissented, holding there could be an account of profits. The dissent was approved by P Birks, 'The Content of Fiduciary Obligation' (2000) 34 Israel Law Review 3, 22
  • Adras Building Material Ltd v Harlow & Jones GmbH [1995] RLR 235, Israel Supreme Court holds a person liable for account of profits after breach of an employment contract
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