James Buchanan and Co Ltd v Babco Forwarding and Shipping (UK) Ltd: HL 1978

A consignment of whisky was stolen whilst on consignemt from a bonded warehouse under CMR terms for Teheran. In bond, it was worth 7,000 pounds, and on export no excise duty was to be paid. Being stolen in the course of transit, excise duty of 30,000 pounds became payable. The plaintiffs claimed to recover the value including the duty, under Article 23.2 of the CMR.
Held: The liability to excise duty constituted ‘other charges’ under Article 23.4. The English text of the convention was incorporated through a schedule. A parallel Fench text had equal authenticity. The process of statutory interpretation required the court directly to interpret the English text of the convention while recognising that another authentic text existed. The court could interpret the statute on broad principles of general acceptation, assisted if need be by reference to the French text, without the need for a preliminary test of ambiguity.
Lord Wilberforce said:’I think that the correct approach is to interpret the English text, which after all is likely to be used by many others than British businessmen, in a normal manner, appropriate for the interpretation of an international convention, unconstrained by technical rules of English law, or by English legal precedent, but on broad principles of general acceptation: Stag Line Ltd v Foscolo, Mango and Co Ltd [1932] AC 328, per Lord Macmillan, at p 350. Moreover, it is perfectly legitimate in my opinion to look for assistance, if assistance is needed, to the French text. This is often put in the form that resort may be had to the foreign text if (and only if) the English text is ambiguous, but I think this states the rule too technically. As Lord Diplock recently said in this House the inherent flexibility of the English (and, one may add, any) language may make it necessary for the interpreter to have recourse to a variety of aids: Carter v Bradbeer [1975] 1 WLR 1204, 1206. There is no need to impose a preliminary test of ambiguity.’
Lord Wilberforce, Lord Salmon, Lord Dilhorne
[1978] AC 141
Customs and Excise Act 1952 85
England and Wales
CitedStag Line v Foscolo, Mango and Company HL 1931
English statutes which give effect to international conventions need to be interpreted with the international origin of the rules well in mind. The Act only applies to contracts of carriage of goods outwards from ports in the United Kingdom, and the . .
Appeal fromJames Buchanan and Company Ltd v Babco Forwarding and Shipping (UK) Ltd CA 2-Dec-1976
A trailer full of whisky had been stolen. Four fifths of its retail value was excise duty. Because it was to have been exported, duty had not been paid. On the theft the owners had had to pay the duty. The owners sued the carriers for the loss, but . .

Cited by:
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CitedWarner v Scapa Flow Charters (Scotland) SC 17-Oct-2018
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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 27 September 2021; Ref: scu.179737