Regina v Inland Revenue Commissioners, Ex parte T C Coombs and Co: HL 1991

The House heard an application judicially to review a notice served by an inspector of taxes under section 20 of the 1970 Act, requiring T C Coombs and Co to deliver or make available for inspection documents in their possession relevant to the tax liability of the taxpayer, their former employee. The notice was given with the consent of a commissioner, who, under section 20(7), was to give such consent only upon being satisfied in all the circumstances that the inspector was justified in proceeding under the section. The Revenue deposed that the information, which had led it to believe that documents in T C Coombs’ possession might contain information relevant to the taxpayer’s tax liability, could not be disclosed on grounds of confidentiality, but had been fully laid before the commissioner.
Held: The effect of the presumption that subordinate legislation, or an administrative act, is lawful until it has been pronounced to be unlawful, is that the legislation or act which is impugned is presumed to be good until pronounced to be unlawful, but is then recognised as never having had any legal effect at all. The burden in such a case is on the defendant to establish on a balance of probabilities that the subordinate legislation or the administrative act is invalid.
Lord Lowry discussed a party’s silence: ‘In our legal system generally, the silence of one party in face of the other party’s evidence may convert that evidence into proof in relation to matters which are, or are likely to be, within the knowledge of the silent party and about which that party could be expected to give evidence. Thus, depending on the circumstances, a prima facie case may become a strong or even an overwhelming case. But, if the silent party’s failure to give evidence (or to give the necessary evidence) can be credibly explained, even if not entirely justified, the effect of his silence in favour of the other party, may be either reduced or nullified.’
As to the test to be satisfied by a party, he said: ‘The case for the validity of the second notice, or any section 20(3) notice, is supported by the presumption of regularity, which is strong in relation to the function of the commissioner under section 20(7). He is an independent person entrusted by Parliament with the duty of supervising the exercise of the intrusive power conferred by section 20(3) and ‘in the absence of any proof the contrary’ credit ought to be given to public officers, who have acted prima facie within the limits of their authority, for having done so with honesty and discretion: Earl of Derby v Bury Improvement Commissioners (1869) LR 4 Exch 222, 226. The commissioner must be taken to be satisfied that the inspector was justified in proceeding under section 20 and hence that the inspector held, and reasonably held, the opinion required by section 20(3). The presumption that that opinion was reasonable and that the commissioner was right to be satisfied can be displaced only by evidence showing that at the time of giving the second notice the inspector could not reasonably have held that opinion. In order to decide whether the applicants succeed in this task, the court must consider all the evidence on both sides and all the available facts, one of which is that the commissioner, having heard an application, consented to the giving of the notice.’
Lord Mackay of Clashfern LC said: ‘The obligation on the commissioner to consider all the circumstances implies a duty on the officer of the Inland Revenue who appears before the commissioner to lay before the commissioner all the information he has about the relevant circumstances including any which might be unfavourable to the giving of the notice.’

Lord Mackay of Clashfern LC, Lord Lowry, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle
[1991] 2 AC 283, [1991] 2 WLR 682, [1991] 3 All ER 623
Taxes Management Act 1970 20
England and Wales
Appeal fromRegina v Inland Revenue Commissioners, Ex parte T C Coombs and Co CA 1989
Lord Tenterden CJ said: ‘It has been carried further in the argument to-day, for it has been urged that the non-appearance of the prosecutor does not necessarily induce the conclusion of a consciousness at that time, that when the prosecution was . .

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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Administrative, Evidence

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.187067