R (on the application of The Ramblers' Association) v Secretary of State for Defence

[2007] EWHC 1398 (Admin), LTL 21 May 2007

21st May 2007



The Secretary of State had decided that a public footpath crossing land in Ministry of Defence ownership around the RAF base at Mildenhall in Suffolk should be stopped up for reasons of national security, relying on the power conferred by section 16 of the Defence Act 1842. However, no provision was made for the creation of a new footpath in its place, although according to section 17 of that Act, "…whenever any footpath or bridle-road shall be stopped up as aforesaid, another path or road shall be provided and made in lieu thereof…" The notice of decision published by the Secretary of State directed members of the public to use existing highways instead.


When a public footpath is stopped up under section 16 of the Defence Act 1842, section 17 of that Act imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to provide and make a replacement path, which cannot be complied with simply by directing the public to use existing highways. The stopping up of this footpath was declared to be unlawful and the Secretary of State’s decision was quashed

This is the first known case in which the court has been called on to consider the powers of stopping up and diverting footpaths and bridleways for defence purposes conferred by sections 16 and 17 of the Defence Act 1842.

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