Colonial Sugar Refining Co Ltd v Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners: PC 18 Jan 1927

An Act removing the right of appeal to the Privy Council was held not to affect an appeal in litigation pending when the Act was passed and decided after its passing, on the ground that (Lord Warrington) ‘[t]o deprive a suitor in pending litigation of an appeal to a superior tribunal which belonged to him as of right is a very different thing from regulating procedure’. And ‘In considering the construction and effect of this Act the Board is guided by the well known principle that a statute should not be held to take away private rights of property without compensation unless the intention to do so is expressed in clear and unambiguous terms’ and ‘When we are seeking the intention of Parliament that may appear from express words but it may also appear by irresistible inference from the statute read as a whole. But I would agree that, if there is a reasonable doubt, the subject should be given the benefit of the doubt.’
A statute should not be held to take away property rights without compensation unless the intention to do so is expressed in terms which are clear and unambiguous.
Lord MacNaghten: ‘As regards the general principles applicable to the case there was no controversy. On the one hand, it was not disputed that if the matter in question be a matter of procedure only, the petition is well founded. On the other hand, if it be more than a matter of procedure, if it touches a right in existence at the passing of the Act, it was conceded that, in accordance with a long line of authorities extending from the time of Lord Coke to the present day, the appellants would be entitled to succeed. The Judiciary Act is not retrospective by express enactment or by necessary intendment. And therefore the only question is, Was the appeal to His Majesty in Council a right vested in the appellants at the date of the passing of the Act, or was it a mere matter of procedure? It seems to their Lordships that the question does not admit of doubt. To deprive a suitor in a pending action of an appeal to a superior tribunal which belonged to him as of right is a very different thing from regulating procedure. In principle, their Lordships see no difference between abolishing an appeal altogether and transferring the appeal to a new tribunal. In either case there is an interference with existing rights contrary to the well-known general principle that statutes are not to be held to act retrospectively unless a clear intention to that effect is manifested.’


Lord Warrington, Lord Darling, Viscont Haldane, Viscount Finlay, Viscount Dunedin


[1927] AC 343, [1927] UKPC 2



Cited by:

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Held: The . .
CitedPeacock, Re SC 22-Feb-2012
The defendant had been convicted of drugs offences, and sentenced under the 1994 Act. The gains he had made exceeded his then assets. Later he acquired further property honestly, and the Court now considered whether those assets could be taken to . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 04 July 2022; Ref: scu.237727