Incorporated Council of Law Reporting For England And Wales v Attorney-General And Others: CA 14 Oct 1971

The Council sought charitable status for its activities of reporting the law. The Revenue appealed against the decision by Foster J that the Council ought to be registered as a charity.
Held: The appeal failed. The company should have charitable status. Although it was selling subscriptions, the trading profits were not distributed to members, and the purposes were charitable.
Russell LJ rejected the argument that the purpose of the company was to provide lawyers with the tools of their trade: ‘It seems to me that if the publication of reliable reports of decisions of the courts is for the benefit of the community and of general public utility in the charitable sense, it is an inevitable and indeed necessary step in the achievement of that benefit that the members of the legal profession are supplied with the tools of their trade. I do not see how the benefit to the public, assuming it to be a charitable object, could otherwise be achieved.’
He continued: ‘ I come now to the question whether, if the main purpose of the council is, as I think it is, to further the sound development and administration of the law in this country, and if, as I think it is, that is a purpose beneficial to the community or of general public utility, that purpose is charitable according to the law of England and Wales.
On this point the law is rooted in the Statute of Elizabeth I, a statute the object of which was the oversight and reform of abuses in the administration of property devoted by donors to purposes which were regarded as worthy of such protection as being charitable. The preamble to the Statute listed certain examples of purposes worthy of such protection. These were from an early stage regarded merely as examples, and have through the centuries been regarded as examples or guideposts for the courts in the differing circumstances of a developing civilisation and economy. Sometimes recourse has been had by the courts to the instances given in the preamble in order to see whether in a given case sufficient analogy may be found with something specifically stated in the preamble, or sufficient analogy with some decided case in which already a previous sufficient analogy has been found. Of this approach perhaps the most obvious example is the provision of crematoria by analogy with the provision of burial grounds by analogy with the upkeep of churchyards by analogy with the repair of churches. On other occasions a decision in favour or against a purpose being charitable has been based in terms upon a more general question whether the purpose is or is not within ‘the spirit and intendment’ of the Statute of Elizabeth I and in particular its preamble. Again (and at an early stage in development) whether the purpose is within ‘the equity’ or within ‘the mischief’ of the Statute. Again whether the purpose is charitable ‘in the same sense’ as purposes within the [purview] of the Statute. I have much sympathy with those who say that these phrases do little of themselves to elucidate any particular problem. ‘Tell me’, they say, ‘what you define when you speak of spirit, intendment, equity, mischief, the same sense, and I will tell you whether a purpose is charitable according to law. But you never define. All you do is sometimes to say that a purpose is none of these things. I can understand it when you say that the preservation of sea walls is for the safety of lives and property, and therefore by analogy the voluntary provision of lifeboats and fire brigades are charitable. I can even follow you as far as crematoria. But these other generalities teach me nothing.’
I say I have much sympathy for such approach: but it seems to me to be unduly and improperly restrictive. The Statute of Elizabeth I was a statute to reform abuses: in such circumstances and in that age the courts of this country were not inclined to be restricted in their implementation of Parliament’s desire for reform to particular examples given by the Statute: and they deliberately kept open their ability to intervene when they thought necessary in cases not specifically mentioned, by applying as the test whether any particular case of abuse of funds or property was within the ‘mischief’ or the ‘equity’ of the Statute.
For myself I believe that this rather vague and undefined approach is the correct one, with analogy, its handmaid, and that when considering Lord Macnaghten’s fourth category in Pemsel’s case of ‘other purposes beneficial to the community’ (or as phrased by Sir Samuel Romilly (then Mr. Romilly) in argument in Morice v. Bishop of Durham: ‘objects of general public utility’) the courts, in consistently saying that not all such are necessarily charitable in law, are in substance accepting that if a purpose is shown to be so beneficial or of such utility it is prima facie charitable in law, but have left open a line of retreat based on the equity of the Statute in case they are faced with a purpose (e.g. a political purpose) which could not have been within the contemplation of the Statute even if the then legislators had been endowed with the gift of foresight into the circumstances of later centuries.
In a case such as the present, in which in my view the object cannot be thought otherwise than beneficial to the community and of general public utility, I believe the proper question to ask is whether there are any grounds for holding it to be outside the equity of the Statute: and I think the answer to that is here in the negative. I have already touched upon its essential importance to our rule of law. If I look at the somewhat random examples in the preamble to the Statute I find in the repair of bridges, havens, causeways, sea banks and highways examples of matters which if not looked after by private enterprise must be a proper function and responsibility of government, which would afford strong ground for a statutory expression by Parliament of anxiety to prevent misappropriation of funds voluntarily dedicated to such matters. It cannot I think be doubted that if there were not a competent and reliable set of reports of judicial decisions, it would be a proper function and responsibility of government to secure their provision for the due administration of the law. It was argued that the specific topics in the preamble that I have mentioned are all concerned with concrete matters, and that so also is the judicially accepted opinion that the provision of a court house is a charitable purpose. But whether the search be for analogy or for the equity of the Statute this seems to me to be too narrow or refined an approach. I cannot accept that the provision, in order to facilitate the proper administration of the law, of the walls and other physical facilities of a court house is a charitable purpose, but that the dissemination by accurate and selective reporting of knowledge of a most important part of the law to be there administered is not.’
Russell, Sachs and Buckley LJJ
1969 I No 5934, [1972] Ch 73, [1971] EWCA Civ 13, [1971] 3 WLR 853, [1971] 3 All ER 1029
Charities Act 1960 4, Statute of Charitable Uses 1601
CitedMorice v The Bishop of Durham CA 26-Mar-1804
Bequest, in trust for such objects of benevolence and liberality as the trustee in his own discretion shall most approve, cannot be supported as a charitable Legacy ; and is therefore a Trust for the next of kin.
Ann Cracherade by her Will, . .
CitedIncome Tax Special Commissioners v Pemsel HL 20-Jul-1891
Charitable Purposes used with technical meaning
The House was asked whether, in a taxing statute applying to the whole of the United Kingdom and allowing for deductions from and allowances against the income of land vested in trustees for charitable purposes, the words ‘charitable purposes’ . .

Cited by:
CitedHelena Partnerships Ltd v HM Revenue and Customs CA 9-May-2012
The company had undertaken substantial building works and sought associated tax relief. The court was asked whether, following a change in the company’s memorandum and articles of association, the company, a registered social landlord, remained a . .

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Updated: 13 January 2021; Ref: scu.197875