Maclaine Watson and Co Ltd v International Tin Council: HL 2 Jan 1989

The International Tin Council was a body constituted by an international treaty not incorporated into law in the United Kingdom. The ITC was also created a legal person in the United Kingdom by article 5 1972 Order.
Held: As a legal person in the United Kingdom – rather than the states who were its members and the parties to the international treaty – the ITC was the contracting party in the contracts it had entered into with the appellant companies. There was no basis for holding the member states liable for its debts, and, even if in international law any such basis had existed, there would have been no basis for enforcing such a liability in a United Kingdom court. If under international law the (unincorporated) treaty made the ITC the agent of its members when contracting, this too was a liability which a United Kingdom court could not enforce, if it could not be found in the 1972 Order. A claim for the appointment of a receiver over ITC’s assets, including any claims it might have under the treaty to be indemnified by its members in respect of its liabilities to the appellants, failed for similar reasons. An unincorporated treaty can create no rights or obligations in domestic law.
Lord Templeman stressed the inability of United Kingdom courts to enforce unincorporated ‘treaty rights and obligations conferred or imposed by agreement or by international law’ though it suggests such courts might look at an unincorporated treaty ‘for the purpose of resolving any ambiguity in the meaning and effect of the Order of 1972’.
Lord Oliver: ‘It is axiomatic that municipal courts have not and cannot have the competence to adjudicate upon or to enforce the rights arising out of transactions entered into by independent sovereign states between themselves on the plane of international law. . . . That is the first of the underlying principles. The second is that, ‘as a matter of the constitutional law of the United Kingdom, the Royal Prerogative, whilst it embraces the making of treaties, does not extend to altering the law or conferring rights upon individuals or depriving individuals of rights which they enjoy in domestic law without the intervention of Parliament. Treaties, as it is sometimes expressed, are not self-executing. Quite simply, a treaty is not part of English law unless and until it has been incorporated into the law by legislation. So far as individuals are concerned, it is res inter alios acta from which they cannot derive rights and by which they cannot be deprived of rights or subjected to obligations; and it is outside the purview of the court not only because it is made in the conduct of foreign relations, which are a prerogative of the Crown, but also because, as a source of rights and obligations, it is irrelevant.’
However he recognised exceptions: ‘These propositions do not, however, involve as a corollary that the court must never look at or construe a treaty. ‘ and ‘it is well established that where a statute is enacted in order to give effect to the United Kingdom’s obligations under a treaty, the terms of the treaty may have to be considered and, if necessary, construed in order to resolve any ambiguity or obscurity as to the meaning or scope of the statue. Clearly, also, where parties have entered into a domestic contract in which they have chosen to incorporate the terms of the treaty, the court may be called upon to interpret the treaty for the purposes of ascertaining the rights and obligations of the parties under their contract’ and ‘Further cases in which the court may not only be empowered but required to adjudicate upon the meaning or scope of the terms of an international treaty arise where domestic legislation, although not incorporating the treaty, nevertheless requires, either expressly or by necessary implication, resort to be had to its terms for the purpose of construing the legislation . . . or the very rare case in which the exercise of the Royal Prerogative directly effects an extension or contraction of the jurisdiction without the constitutional need for internal legislation . . . ‘ and ‘It must be borne in mind, furthermore, that the conclusion of an international treaty and its terms are as much matters of fact as any other fact. That a treaty may be referred to where it is necessary to do so as part of the factual background against which a particular issue arises may seem a statement of the obvious. But it is, I think, necessary to stress that the purpose for which such reference can legitimately be made is purely an evidential one. Which states have become parties to a treaty and when and what the terms of the treaty are are questions of fact. The legal results which flow from it in international law, whether between the parties inter se or between the parties or any of them and outsiders, are not and they are not justiciable by municipal courts.’

Templeman and Oliver LL
[1989] 3 All ER 523
International Tin Council (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1972, International Organisations Act 1968
England and Wales
Appeal from (affirmed)Maclaine Watson and Co Ltd v International Tin Council CA 1988
The court asked the extent to which international law forms part of the law of this country. Nourse LJ said: ‘For up to two and a half centuries it has been generally accepted amongst English judges and jurists that international law forms part of . .
Appeal from (affirmed)Maclaine Watson and Co Ltd v International Tin Council (No. 2) CA 1988
When the ITC did not satisfy an arbitral award made against it, the judgment creditor sought to discover where its assets could be found. Application to the Court was made under RSC 0.48 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 and under the Court’s inherent . .
CitedSecretary of State in Council of India v Kamachee Boye Sahab PC 9-Jul-1859
‘The transactions of independent states between each other are governed by other laws than those which municipal courts administer: such courts have neither the means of deciding what is right, nor the power of enforcing any decision which they may . .
CitedRustomjee v The Queen QBD 1876
The Sovereign acts ‘throughout the making of the treaty and in relation to each and every of its stipulations in her sovereign character, and by her own inherent authority; and, as in making the treaty, so in performing the treaty, she is beyond the . .
CitedZoernsch v Waldock CA 1964
A claim was lodged against a former president as well as the current secretary of the European Commission of Human Rights. The former president, Sir Humphrey Waldock, was under the 1960 Order entitled to ‘the like immunity from legal process as is . .
CitedPost Office v Estuary Radio Ltd CA 1968
On the proper inerpretation of the legislation, the extent of application of the legislative regime is determined by reference to the concept of the UK’s territorial waters as defined from time to time by the Crown. When the exercise of the Royal . .
CitedBlackburn v Attorney-General CA 10-May-1971
The complainant sought to argue that entry to Europe would be unlawful in that it involved surrender of the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. The respondent accepted that the Bill would involve some surrender of power, but that it was a lawful . .

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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

International, Company

Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.194460