HP Bulmer Ltd and Another v J Bollinger Sa and others: CA 22 May 1974

Necessity for Reference to ECJ

Lord Denning said that the test for whether a question should be referred to the European Court of Justice is one of necessity, not desirability or convenience. There are cases where the point, if decided one way, would shorten the trial greatly. But if decided the other way, it would mean that the trial would have to go its full length. It would not in those circumstances be ‘necessary’ for a preliminary ruling to be sought. When the facts are investigated, it might turn out to have been quite unnecessary. For this reason, Lord Denning concluded that as a rule it is only after the facts are ascertained that a determination can be made that a reference is necessary.
Denning described the effect of the EC Treaty: ‘The first and fundamental point is that the Treaty concerns only those matters which have a European element, that is to say, matters which affect people or property in the nine countries of the Common Market besides ourselves. The Treaty does not touch any of the matters which concern solely the mainland of England and the people in it. These are still governed by English law. They are not affected by the Treaty. But when we come to matters with a European element, the Treaty is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back. Parliament has decreed that the Treaty is henceforward to be part of our law. It is equal in force to any statute.’
. . And: ‘ In the task of interpreting the Treaty, the English Judges are no longer the final authority. They no longer carry the law in their breasts. They are no longer in a position to give rulings which are of binding force. The supreme tribunal for interpreting the Treaty is the European Court of Justice, at Luxembourg. Our Parliament has so decreed.’
Stephenson LJ discussed article 177 saying: ‘(i) The rulings which the European Court has jurisdiction to give under Article 177(1) are not strictly ‘preliminary’. They do not have to be given ‘in limine’ before the Court of the Member State crosses the threshold and begins to hear a dispute, but they can be given at any time before the Court finishes hearing the dispute by giving judgment. The ruling is in that sense ‘prejudicial’, not necessarily preliminary, though it may be.
(ii) Article 177(2) confers a power, whereas Article 177(3) imposes an obligation. A lower Court of a Member State ‘may’ request a ruling, a final Court ‘shall’. The contrast in the language is as clear as in the section of the English statute which this Court construed in Re Baker (1890) 44 Ch. Div. 262, and has the same effect: the lower Court is trusted with a discretion, the final Court is not. All attempts to blur the distinction between the power of the one and the duty of the other when a question is raised under Article 177(1) break down on the different wording of Article 177(2) and (3). Section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 distinguishes powers from obligations, and so by this wording does Article 177, by whatever canon of construction it is interpreted. The European Court has always recognised that distinction; e.g. in Da Costa en Schaake N.V. and Others v. Nederlande Belasting -administratie (1963) 2 C.M.L.R. 224, 237; and has recently emphasised it and described the power given to the national Courts by Article 177(2) as conferring on them ‘the widest discretion’, which no domestic Court of Appeal can fetter: Firma Rheinmuhlen Dusseldorf v. Enfuhr und Vorratsstelle fur Getreide und Futtermittal, case 166/73 shortly reported in The Times Newspaper of 16th February 1974; to which my Lord has already referred,
(iii) The only questions which the Courts of a Member State can, or in some cases must, refer to the European Court are questions of law within Article 177(1) on which decisions are necessary to enable them to give judgment. If they consider that they can give judgment in the dispute in which the question is raised without deciding the question, they need not and indeed must not trouble the European Court by requesting a ruling or bringing the matter before it. Section 3(1) of the 1972 Act recognises that questions within Article 177(1) are questions of law and may be for determination by our Courts without referring them to the European Court. That is how the Courts of Member States have rightly proceeded, including English Judges, Mr. Justice Whitford among them: Lerose Ltd. v. Hawick Jersey International Ltd. (1972) 12 C.M.L.R. 83.’

Lord Denning MR, Stamp, Stephenson LJJ
[1974] EWCA Civ 14, [1974] 2 All ER 1226, [1974] 3 WLR 202, [1974] Ch 401
Regulation 816/76 30, Regulation 817/70 12, European Community Act 1972 2(1) 83, Treaty of Rome 177
England and Wales
CitedVine Products Ltd v Mackenzie and Co Ltd (the Sherry Case) ChD 1969
Assorted sherry producers and shippers to write to producers and importers of ‘British Sherry’ asking them to stop using the word ‘sherry’ other than in relation to wines emanating from the Jerez district of Spain. Those producers and importers to . .
CitedBollinger v Costa Brava Wine Co Ltd 1960
Intruders into the market brought into England a wine somewhat similar to Champagne. It had been produced in the Costa Brava district of Spain. They marketed it under the name ‘Spanish Champagne’. The French growers and shippers brought an action to . .
CitedJohn Walker and Sons Ltd v Henry Ost and Co Ltd ChD 1970
The plaintiff whisky distiller claimed in passing-off against the defendant who supplied bottles and labels to a distiller in Ecuador.
Held: An injunction was granted. Having cited from Singer v Loog, the court added: ‘I would be slow to . .
CitedDa Costa En Schaake Nv, Jacob Meijer Nv, Hoechst-Holland Nv v Netherlands Inland Revenue Administration ECJ 27-Mar-1963
ECJ (Preliminary Ruling ) 1. The obligation imposed by the third paragraph of article 177 of the EEC Treaty upon national courts or tribunals of last instance may be deprived of its purpose by reason of the . .
CitedVan Gend En Loos v Administratie Der Belastingen ECJ 5-Feb-1963
LMA The Dutch customs authorities had introduced an import charge in breach of Art.12 [Art.25] EC. This Article prohibits MS from introducing between themselves any new customs duties on imports or exports or any . .
CitedHessische Knappschaft v Maison Singer And Sons ECJ 9-Dec-1965
Procedure – 1. Since the right to determine the questions to be brought before the court devolves upon the court or tribunal of the member state alone, the parties may not change their tenor or have them declared to be without purpose.
2. The . .
CitedFratelli Grassi Fu Davide v Italian Finance Administration. (Questions Referred To The Court For A Preliminary Ruling) ECJ 15-Jun-1972
ECJ According to article 177 of the Treaty it is for the national court and not the parties to the main action to bring a matter before the court of justice.
Since the power to formulate the questions to be . .

Cited by:
CitedCommissioners of Customs and Excise v Aps Samex 1983
It is generally right for the court to find the facts before referring questions of law to the European Court of Justice.
Bingham J restated the four requirement sfor a reference set out in Bulmer, saying: ‘(1) Will the point be substantially . .
CitedFisher and Others v Revenue and Customs FTTTx 14-Aug-2014
FTTTx Income Tax – Anti-avoidance – transfer of assets abroad code – s739 ICTA 1988 – appellants were shareholders in UK bookmaker which transferred its telebetting business to Gibraltar – purpose of avoiding . .
AppliedCoast Telecom Ltd v Revenue and Customs FTTTx 11-Apr-2012
Procedure – application for stay pending determination of references to CJEU – whether First-tier Tribunal bound by Mobilx – yes – whether determination of references would materially assist determination of appeal – no – whether expedient to order . .
CitedThe Number (UK) Ltd and Another v Office of Communications CAT 24-Nov-2008
. .
CitedVehicle and Operator Services Agency v Jones (Nell) Admn 5-Oct-2005
The Agency appealed against dismissal of its allegation that the defendant had wrongfully withdrawn his tachograph record. He had lifted the top of the tachograph which had the effect if disengaging the marker without actually removing the record . .
CitedFage UK Ltd and Another v Chobani UK Ltd and Another CA 28-Jan-2014
Lewison LJ said: ‘Appellate courts have been repeatedly warned, by recent cases at the highest level, not to interfere with findings of fact by trial judges, unless compelled to do so. This applies not only to findings of primary fact, but also to . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

European, Intellectual Property, Constitutional

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.262729