Society of Medical Officers of Health v Hope: HL 1960

A local valuation court had decided in 1951 that the Society’s land was exempt from rates under section 1 of the 1843 Act. The exemption was conditional on certain facts relating to the Society and its purpose in occupying the building. In 1956 the land was shown as a rateable in the new valuation list. The Lands Tribunal rejected a submission that a res judicata estoppel arose from the 1951 decision even though it was admitted that there had been no change of circumstances.
Held: The limited jurisdiction of the local valuation court, which might have to form opinions on questions of general law, but only incidentally to its direct function of fixing the assessment and the special position of the valuation officer or equivalent official did not create an assessment binding for future years.
Lord Radcliffe said there was: ‘high and frequent authority for the proposition that it is not in the nature of a decision on one rate or tax that it should settle anything more than the bare issue of that one liability, and that, consequently, it cannot constitute an estoppel when a new issue of liability to a succeeding year’ s rate or tax comes up for adjudication. The question of this liability is a ‘new question.’
Lord Keith said: ‘The valuation officer has a public duty to perform by making periodically every five years a valuation list of all hereditaments, with certain exceptions, in his rating area. He must necessarily reconsider and revise the previous valuation list. He has no personal interest in any appeals taken against his valuations, and has a duty to hold the scales as fairly as he can among the ratepayers affected, the occupiers of the various hereditaments. The general body of ratepayers is constantly changing. With each quinquennium the revaluation will affect a new body of ratepayers. I doubt if the valuation officer owing such a duty to an ever-changing body of ratepayers can be regarded as always the same party in the sense in which that expression is used for the application of the rule of res judicata. What if the appellant society changes its habitat, and moves into another rating area with a different valuation officer?
I emphasise these aspects of the functions of a valuation officer under the statute, for they lead to what I regard as the true answer to the submission for the appellants, which is that a public officer in the position of the respondent cannot be estopped from carrying out his duties under the statute.’
Radcliffe, Cohen, Jenkins LL, Viscount Simons, Keith L
[1960] AC 553
Scientific Societies Act 1843 1
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedMatalan Retail Ltd v Revenue and Customs ChD 5-Aug-2009
The taxpayer imported swimwear for sale. The respondent had incorrectly indicated that such swimwear had one classification. The claimant sought to prevent the respondent reclassifying the goods, saying that they had made given binding tariff . .

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Updated: 17 June 2021; Ref: scu.372323