Regina v Inland Revenue Commissioners, ex parte the National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses Ltd: HL 9 Apr 1981

Limitations on HMRC discretion on investigation

The Commissioners had been concerned at tax evasion of up to 1 million pounds a year by casual workers employed in Fleet Street. They agreed with the employers and unions to collect tax in the future, but that they would not pursue those who had evaded taxes in the past. The Federation challenged the concession. The Revenue said it did not have standing to make the challenge.
Held: It was relevant to consider the strength of the case that the Commissioners were acting beyond their powers. The Board are charged by statute with the care, management and collection on behalf of the Crown of income tax, corporation tax and capital gains tax. It has a wide discretion as to the best means of obtaining for the national exchequer from the taxes committed to their charge, the highest net return that is practicable having regard to the staff available to them and the cost of collection. The board is under a statutory duty of confidentiality with respect to information about individual taxpayers’ affairs that has been obtained in the course of their duties in making assessments and collecting the taxes; and this imposes a limitation on their managerial discretion. If it were established that the board were proposing to exercise or to refrain from exercising its powers not for reasons of ‘good management’ but for some extraneous or ulterior reason, that action or inaction of the board would be ultra vires and would be a proper matter for judicial review if it were brought to the attention of the court by an applicant with ‘a sufficient interest’ in having the board compelled to observe the law. In the daily discharge of their duties inspectors are constantly required to balance the duty to collect ‘every part’ of due tax against the duty of good management. This conflict of duties can be resolved only by good managerial decisions, some of which will inevitably mean that not all the tax known to be due will be collected.
Lord Diplock justified the modern approach to judicial review: ‘It would, in my view, be a grave lacuna in our system of public law if a pressure group, like the federation, or even a single public-spirited taxpayer, were prevented by outdated technical rules of locus standi from bringing the matter to the attention of the court to vindicate the rule of law and get the unlawful conduct stopped. The Attorney-General, although he occasionally applies for prerogative orders against public authorities that do not form part of central government, in practice never does so against government departments. It is not, in my view, a sufficient answer to say that judicial review of the actions of officers or departments of central government is unnecessary because they are accountable to Parliament for the way in which they carry out their functions. They are accountable to Parliament for what they do so far as regards efficiency and policy, and of that Parliament is the only judge; they are responsible to a court of justice for the lawfulness of what they do, and of that the court is the only judge.’ Section 1 of the 1970 Act gave the Commissioners ‘a wide managerial discretion as to the best means of obtaining for the national exchequer from the taxes committed to their charge, the highest net return that is practicable having regard to the staff available to them and the cost of collection.’ ‘If on quick perusal of the material available the court thinks that it discloses what might on further consideration turn out to be an arguable case in favour of granting the relief sought it ought, in the exercise of a judicial discretion, to give leave.’
Lord Wilberforce said that ‘the whole system . . involves that . . matters relating to income tax are between the commissioners and the taxpayer concerned’, and that the ‘total confidentiality of assessments and of negotiations between individuals and the revenue is a vital element in the working of the system’

Lord Scarman, Lord Diplock, Lord Roskill, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton, Lord Wilberforce
[1982] AC 617, [1981] UKHL 2, [1981] 2 All ER 93, [1981] 2 WLR 722, [1981] UKHL TC – 55 – 133, [1981] 1 WLR 793, [1981] TR 215, 55 TC 24, [1981] STC 344
Bailii, Bailii
Taxes Management Act 1970 1
England and Wales
Cited by:
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The applicant sought to bring an action to challenge new rules on approval of export credit guarantees. The company was non-profit and founded to support investigation of bribery. It had applied for a protected costs order to support the . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for Home Department ex parte Augusto Pinochet Ugarte Admn 27-May-1999
The applicant, the former president of Chile, sought to challenge an order allowing an application for his extradition to proceed. He said that once the matters deemed inadmissible had been excluded, there was insufficicient ground to allow the . .
CitedWilkinson, Regina (on the Application Of) v Inland Revenue HL 5-May-2005
The claimant said that the widows’ bereavement tax allowance available to a wife surviving her husband should be available to a man also if it was not to be discriminatory.
Held: Similar claims had been taken before the Human Rights Act to the . .
CitedGoodson v HM Coroner for Bedfordshire and Luton and Another (No 2) CA 12-Oct-2005
The applicant intended to appeal refusal of her challenge to the verdict of the coroner. For the first time at appeal she sought a protective costs order.
Held: The Corner House case established that a request for a protective costs order . .
CitedRegina (Nadarajah) v Secretary of State for the Home Department; Abdi v Secretary of State for the Home Department CA 22-Nov-2005
The asylum applicant challenged a certificate given by the respondent that the claim for asylum was manifestly ill-founded. The respondent had made a mistake in applying the appropriate policy, but had sought to correct the error. The claimants . .
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The plaintiff sought the unsealing of the wills of the late Queen Mother and of the late Princess Margaret, claiming that these would assist him establishing that he was the illegitimate son of the latter.
Held: The application was frivolous. . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ex Parte the World Development Movement Ltd Admn 10-Nov-1994
The Movement sought to challenge decisions of the Secretary of state to give economic aid to the Pergau Dam, saying that it was not required ‘for the purpose of promoting the development’ of Malaysia. It was said to be uneconomic and damaging. It . .
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The applicant sought, as a taxpayer, to object to the proposed payment of andpound;121m to the European Community without an Appropriation Act, but under an Order in Council. The claim was that a draft Order in Council laid by the Treasury before . .
CitedEdwards, Regina (on the application of) v Environment Agency HL 16-Apr-2008
The applicants sought to challenge the grant of a permit by the defendant to a company to operate a cement works, saying that the environmental impact assessment was inadequate.
Held: The Agency had been justified in allowing the application . .
CitedInland Revenue Commissioners v Nuttall CA 1990
The Revenue and the taxpayer had agreed that the latter should pay andpound;15,000 in consideration of the Revenue taking no proceedings against him for tax penalties or interest. The taxpayer paid only andpound;5,000 and the Revenue sought summary . .
CitedStockler v HM Revenue and Customs ChD 22-Sep-2009
The taxpayer appealed against a decision confirming the Commissioners’ power to impose a penalty on him. It was said that his solicitors’ firm had negligently understated its profits. A settlement was proposed allowing a withdrawal of the return, . .
CitedOxfam v Revenue and Customs ChD 27-Nov-2009
The charity appealed against refusal to allow it to reclaim input VAT. It also sought judicial review of the decision of the Tribunal not to allow it to raise an argument of legitimate expectation. The charity had various subsidiaries conducting . .
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The claimant sought to challenge the validity of the 2009 Act by judicial review. The Act would make their insured and themselves liable to very substantial unanticipated claims for damages for pleural plaques which would not previousl or otherwise . .
CitedWalton v The Scottish Ministers SC 17-Oct-2012
The appellant, former chair of a road activist group, challenged certain roads orders saying that the respondent had not carried out the required environmental assessment. His claim was that the road had been adopted without the consultation . .
CitedIngenious Media Holdings Plc and Another, Regina (on The Application of) v Revenue and Customs SC 19-Oct-2016
The tax payer complained that the Permanent Secretary for Tax had, in an off the record briefing disclosed tax details regarding a film investment scheme. Despite the off the record basis, details were published in a newspaper. His claims had been . .
CitedMiller, Regina (on the Application of) v The Prime Minister; Cherry QC v Lord Advocate SC 24-Sep-2019
Prerogative act of prorogation was justiciable.
The Prime Minister had prorogued Parliament for a period of five weeks, leaving only a short time for Parliament to debate and act the forthcoming termination of the membership by the UK of the EU. The Scottish Court had decided (Cherry) that the . .
CitedBlack, Regina (on The Application of) v Secretary of State for Justice Admn 5-Mar-2015
The serving prisoner said that new general restrictions on smoking in public buildings applied also in prisons. were a breach of his human rights. The only spaces where prisoners were allowed now to smoke were their cells, and he would share cells . .
CitedJJ Management Consulting Llp and Others v Revenue and Customs CA 22-Jun-2020
HMRC has power to conduct informal investigation
The taxpayer, resident here, but with substantial oversea business interests, challenged the conduct of an informal investigation of his businesses under the 2005 Act, saying that HMRC, as a creature of statute, are only permitted to do that which . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Taxes Management, Judicial Review, Income Tax

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.184332