Commissioners of Inland Revenue v McGuckian: HL 21 May 1997

Steps which had been inserted into a commercial transaction, but which had no purpose other than the saving of tax are to be disregarded when assessing the tax effect of the scheme. The modern approach to statutory construction is to have regard to the purpose of a particular provision and interpret its language, so far as possible, in a way which best gives effect to that purpose. The particular vice of formalism in the interpretation had been the insistence of the courts on treating every transaction which had an individual legal identity as having its own separate tax consequences, whatever might be the terms of the statute.
Lord Steyn said that it was: ‘those two features – literal interpretation of tax statutes and the formalistic insistence on examining steps in a composite scheme separately – [which] allowed tax avoidance schemes to flourish.’ Lord Browne-Wilkinson: ‘The approach pioneered in Ramsay and developed in later decisions is an approach to construction, viz. that construing tax legislation, the statutory provisions are to be applied to the substance of the transaction, disregarding artificial steps in the composite transaction or series of transactions inserted only for the purpose of seeking to obtain a tax advantage. The question is not what was the effect of the insertion of the artificial steps but what was its purpose. Having identified the artificial steps inserted with that purpose and disregarded them, then what is left is to apply the statutory language of the taxing Act to the transaction carried through stripped of its artificial steps.’
Lord Steyn, Lord Browne-Wilkinson
Times 20-Jun-1997, Gazette 09-Jul-1997, [1997] UKHL 22, [1997] 1 WLR 991, [1997] 3 All ER 817
House of Lords, Bailii
Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1970 478
England and Wales
CitedW T Ramsay Ltd v Inland Revenue Commissioners HL 12-Mar-1981
The taxpayers used schemes to create allowable losses, and now appealed assessment to tax. The schemes involved a series of transactions none of which were a sham, but which had the effect of cancelling each other out.
Held: If the true nature . .
CitedFurniss (Inspector of Taxes) v Dawson HL 9-Feb-1983
The transfer of shares to a subsidiary as part of a planned scheme immediately to transfer them to an outside purchaser was regarded as a taxable disposition to the outside purchaser rather than an exempt transfer to a group company. In defined . .
CitedInland Revenue Commissioners v Plummer HL 1-Nov-1979
Although transactions were integrated as part of a preconceived scheme which was commercially marketed and that had no other conceivable purpose than that of saving surtax, the construction of the statute compelled the acceptance of a fiscal result . .
CitedInland Revenue Commissioners v Duke of Westminster HL 7-May-1935
The Duke’s gardener was paid weekly, but to reduce tax, his solicitors drew up a deed in which it was said that the earnings were not really wages, but were an annual payment payable by weekly instalments.
Held: To find out what the true . .
CitedPryce v Monmouthshire Canal and Railway Cos 1879
A taxpayer is entitled to stand on a literal construction of the words used regardless of the purpose of the statute. . .
CitedCape Brandy Syndicate v Inland Revenue Commissioners CA 1921
Rowlatt J said: ‘In a taxing Act one has to look merely at what is clearly said. There is no room for any intendment. There is no equity about a tax. There is no presumption as to a tax. Nothing is to be read in, nothing is to be implied’ and . .

Cited by:
CitedBarclays Mercantile Business Finance Ltd v Mawson (HM Inspector of Taxes) HL 25-Nov-2004
The company had paid substantial sums out in establishing a gas pipeline, and claimed those sums against its tax as capital allowances. The transaction involved a sale and leaseback arrangement which the special commissioners had found to be a . .
CitedGreen and Another v Inland Revenue ChD 11-Jan-2005
The deceased died intestate and with a negative valued personal estate, but with assets in trusts, including a revocable life interest in property. The question was whether his debts could be set off against the trusts interests to reduce them below . .
CitedTrennery v West (Inspector of Taxes) HL 27-Jan-2005
The House considered the application of the section to ‘flip-flop trusts’. The section allocated liability to charge on gains within a settlement under certain circumstances onto the settlor, and at his rate of tax. Assets were allocated to two . .
CitedPeter John St. Barbe Green, David Robert Mitson (Trustees of the Will of Consuelo Dowager Duchess of Manchester v the Commissioners of Inland Revenue ChD 11-Jan-2005
The taxpayer appealed a notice of determination of liability of the estate for Inheritance Tax purposes. He sought to set off an excess of liabilities over assets in the deceased’s own estate against assets held in settlements.
Held: The . .
CitedNorglen Ltd (In Liquidation) v Reeds Rains Prudential Ltd and Others; Circuit Systems Ltd (In Liquidation) and Another v Zuken-Redac HL 1-Dec-1997
An assignment of a cause of action by a company in liquidation was valid, even though the dominant purpose was to avoid having to give security for costs, and to get legal aid. In dismissing the argument that the transactions were a device to defeat . .
CitedIngram and Palmer-Tomkinson (Executors of the Estate of Lady Jane Lindsay Morgan Ingram Deceased) v Commissioners of Inland Revenue CA 28-Jul-1997
The deceased had first conveyed property to her solicitor. Leases back were then created in her favour, and then the freeholds were conveyed at her direction to her children and grandchildren. They were potentially exempt transfers.
Held: . .
CitedGreenalls Management Ltd v Customs and Excise HL 12-May-2005
Volumes of vodka were transferred from a secure warehouse to a carrier for export. They were diverted, and not exported and the Customs sought the unpaid duty from the warehouse. The Directive provided that duty was payable on the ‘release for . .
CitedHM Revenue and Customs v Salaried Persons Postal Loans Ltd ChD 7-Apr-2006
The company had ceased trading, but rental income was still generated from its former premises. The Revenue sought to include the receipt in calculations of whether the company was entitled to a small company corporation tax rate. The Revenue . .
CitedScottish Widows Plc v Revenue and Customs SC 6-Jul-2011
The taxpayer insurance company had transferred sums from accounts designated as Capital Reserves. The Revenue said that these were properly part of the profit and loss accounts for the respective tax years, and chargeable receipts.
Held: The . .
CitedUBS Ag and Another v Revenue and Customs SC 9-Mar-2016
UBS AG devised an employee bonus scheme to take advantage of the provisions of Chapter 2 of the 2003 Act, with the sole purpose other than tax avoidance, and such consequential advantages as would flow from tax avoidance. Several pre-ordained steps . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 23 December 2020; Ref: scu.135195