Coomber (Surveyor of Taxes) v Berkshire Justices: HL 3 Dec 1883

The central issue was whether a block of buildings comprising county assize courts and a police station were liable to income tax under Schedule A. If they had been erected as part of the function of government in the administration of justice, then notwithstanding the fact that they were built by the county and paid for out of the county rates, the Crown’s exemption from payment of taxes would apply.
Held: They were both exempt, the police being ultimately a crown responsibility
Lord Blackburn said: ‘I do not think it can be disputed that the administration of justice, both criminal and civil, and the preservation of order and prevention of crime by means of what is now called police, are among the most important functions of Government, nor that by the constitution of this country, these functions do, of common right, belong to the Crown.
In England a subject may have a franchise, giving him the right to administer justice in a particular locality in courts held by him; and he may also have a right to name the constables. In early times, such local franchises were of value for the revenue derived from the fees, and, no doubt, as increasing the local influence of the grantee. But it was always held that on a proceeding in quo warranto the Crown could call on the person in possession of such a franchise to shew his title, on the ground that they were among the matters quae mere spectant ad regem, and that unless he shewed a title by grant from the crown, or by prescription, the franchises were seized and he was ousted. (See Comyn’s Digest, Quo Warranto A, and the authorities there collected). In the present case there is no question raised as to any franchise in the hands of a subject.
From very early times, judges acting under the King’s Commission went down to administer justice in counties. The sheriff, the head officer of the county, but appointed by the Crown, was always called upon to attend them, and to provide lodging and accommodation for them. He did this at the cost of the county. I do not stop to inquire by what machinery the cost was in early times defrayed. It is now provided for by the statutes referred to, and comes out of the county rate.
The sheriff also was bound to raise the hue and cry, and call out the posse comitatus of the county whenever it was necessary for any police purposes; in so doing he was acting for the Crown, but the burthen fell on the inhabitants of the county. By modern legislation, the county police are arrayed at the expense of the county, defrayed by a police rate on the county, supplemented, in some cases, by grants from the imperial revenues.
Income Tax. Assize courts and police stations. Crown privilege. In fulfilment of the duty cast upon a county of providing courts and maintaining a police force, the justices cause certain buildings to be erected and used for the purposes of an assize court and police station. Held, that the purposes for which the buildings are owned and occupied are purposes required and created by the Government of the country, and that the buildings must be deemed to be for the use and service of the Crown, and, therefore, exempt from income tax.

Lord Blackburn
[1883] 9 AC 61, [1883] UKHL TC – 2 – 1, (1883) 9 App Cas 61
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex Parte Northumbria Police Authority CA 18-Nov-1987
The Authority appealed from refusal of judicial review of a circular issued by the respondent as to the supply of Plastic Baton Rounds and CS gas from central resources only. The authority suggested that the circular amounted to permission for the . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Police, Constitutional, Income Tax

Updated: 28 December 2021; Ref: scu.636770