W T Ramsay Ltd v Inland Revenue Commissioners: HL 12 Mar 1981

The taxpayers used schemes to create allowable losses, and now appealed assessment to tax. The schemes involved a series of transactions none of which were a sham, but which had the effect of cancelling each other out.
Held: If the true nature of the transactions could be seen by looking at them all together, then that should be done. If the composite transaction produced neither a gain nor a loss, it was a nullity. The schemes should be ignored as artificial and fiscally ineffective. The language of a taxing statute will often have to be given a wide practical meaning to allow the court to have regard to the whole of a series of transactions which were intended to have a commercial unity. Lord Wilberforce (on the interpretation of taxation statutes) ‘What are ‘clear words’ is to be ascertained upon normal principles: these do not confine the courts to literal interpretation. There may, indeed should, be considered the context and scheme of the relevant Act as a whole, and its purpose may, indeed should, be regarded.’ As to the construction of composite transactions: ‘It is the task of the court to ascertain the legal nature of any transaction to which it is sought to attach a tax or a tax consequence and if that emerges from a series or combination of transactions, intended to operate as such, it is that series or combination which may be regarded.’ and ‘The capital gains tax was created to operate in the real world, not that of make-belief . . . To say that a loss (or gain) which appears to arise at one stage in an indivisible process, and which is intended to be and is cancelled out by a later stage, so that at the end of what was bought as, and planned as, a single continuous operation, there is not such a loss (or gain) as the legislation is dealing with, is in my opinion well and indeed essentially within the judicial function.’


Wilberforce, Fraser of Tullybelton, Russell of Killowen, Roskill, Bridge of Harwich LL


[1981] 1 All ER 865, [1982] AC 300, [1981] UKHL 1, [1981] STC 174




England and Wales


AppliedChinn v Hochstrasser (Inspector of Taxes) HL 11-Dec-1980
The House considered the meaning of the word ‘bounty’ in an income tax context, where it had been used by the courts: ‘My Lords, I would venture to point out that the word ‘bounty’ appears nowhere in the statute. It is a judicial gloss upon the . .
AppliedInland Revenue Commissioners v Plummer HL 1-Nov-1979
Although transactions were integrated as part of a preconceived scheme which was commercially marketed and that had no other conceivable purpose than that of saving surtax, the construction of the statute compelled the acceptance of a fiscal result . .
CitedInland Revenue Commissioners v Duke of Westminster HL 7-May-1935
The Duke’s gardener was paid weekly, but to reduce tax, his solicitors drew up a deed in which it was said that the earnings were not really wages, but were an annual payment payable by weekly instalments.
Held: To find out what the true . .

Cited by:

CitedDTE Financial Services Ltd v Wilson (Inspector of Taxes) CA 24-May-2001
A scheme by which an employer paid bonuses to senior staff by purchasing contingent reversionary interests in an overseas trust, and then assigning them to the staff without admitting liability for income tax or national insurance contributions when . .
AppliedMoodie v Inland Revenue Commissioners and Another and similar HL 7-Apr-1993
A scheme was devised to sell annuities to charities. They then used the capital sum paid to purchase promissory notes from the charity, which were in turn used to secure annuity payments.
Held: The scheme was entirely self cancelling and void. . .
CitedGriffin v Citibank Investments Ltd ChD 14-Nov-2000
Where there existed properly constituted documents recording a contract, the court could not go behind them to discover the real transaction. The rules in Ramsay is not a special set of principles restricted to issues in determining the legal effect . .
CitedMcNiven (Inspector of Taxes) v Westmoreland Investments Ltd CA 26-Oct-1998
Cross loans were made between an investment company and pension schemes. The overall effect was to create payments which could be set off against Corporation Tax. They were not a pre-ordained series of transactions where the underlying loans were . .
CitedBarclays Mercantile Business Finance Ltd v Mawson (Inspector of Taxes) ChD 22-Jul-2002
The taxpayer sought to claim for capital allowances of andpound;91 million for gas pipelines. The claimant had provided the equipment through a leasing scheme.
Held: The leases were unusual, but did not appear to be merely part of a tax . .
CitedMacDonald (Inspector of Taxes) v Dextra Accessories Ltd and Others ChD 16-Apr-2003
The inspector sought to disallow charging to current tax period payments made by the employer to an employee benefit trust.
Held: The payments were not made and held by the trustees ‘with a view to becoming relevant emoluments’ within the . .
ExplainedMacNiven (Inspector of Taxes) v Westmoreland Investments Ltd HL 15-Feb-2001
The fact that a payment of interest was made only to create a tax advantage did not prevent its being properly claimed. Interest was paid for the purposes of setting it against tax, when the debt was discharged. A company with substantial losses had . .
CitedEnsign Tankers (Leasing) Ltd v Stokes (Inspector of Taxes) HL 6-May-1992
The appellants entered into partnerships with a film production company. By doing so they intended to make available to themselves first year allowances on the capital expenditure incurred. Loan agreements protected them from any eventual loss.
CitedBMBF (No 24) Limited v the Commissioners of Inland Revenue CA 6-Nov-2003
The taxpayer, a non-resident, operated a sale and lease back scheme of machinery to be used in its business within the UK. There had been a chain of leases.
Held: The court had first to identify the ‘relevant lease’. It was the head lease . .
CitedCommissioner of Inland Revenue v Auckland Harbour Board PC 24-Jan-2001
PC (New Zealand) The respondent had created two trusts. The issue was how their income was to be treated for income tax.
Held: They had received no consideration. It was said that the transfers had been . .
CitedCraven v White HL 1988
The inland revenue claimed that several transactions had been arranged for the predominant purpose of obtaining a tax advantage, and that accordingly they should be disregarded. Lord Oliver: ‘[T]he transactions which, in each appeal, the Inland . .
CitedInland Revenue Commissioners v Scottish Provident Institution HL 25-Nov-2004
The parties anticipated a change in the system for taxing gains on options to buy or sell bonds and government securities. An option would be purchased before the change and exercised after the change to create losses which could be set off against . .
CitedCommissioners of Inland Revenue v McGuckian HL 21-May-1997
Steps which had been inserted into a commercial transaction, but which had no purpose other than the saving of tax are to be disregarded when assessing the tax effect of the scheme. The modern approach to statutory construction is to have regard to . .
CitedBarclays Mercantile Business Finance Ltd v Mawson (HM Inspector of Taxes) HL 25-Nov-2004
The company had paid substantial sums out in establishing a gas pipeline, and claimed those sums against its tax as capital allowances. The transaction involved a sale and leaseback arrangement which the special commissioners had found to be a . .
ExplainedInland Revenue v Burmah Oil Co Ltd HL 1982
A series of circular payments which left the taxpayer company in exactly the same financial position as before was not regarded as giving rise to a ‘loss’ within the meaning of the legislation. The ratio of the Ramsay decision was that a loss which . .
RestatedCollector of Stamp Revenue v Arrowtown Assets Ltd 4-Dec-2003
(Hong Kong Final Court of Appeal) The court was asked as to the accounting treatment of interests incurred in the development for the purpose of generating the profits, and therefore whether the relevant Ordinance prohibited the capitalisation of . .
ExtendedFurniss (Inspector of Taxes) v Dawson HL 9-Feb-1983
The transfer of shares to a subsidiary as part of a planned scheme immediately to transfer them to an outside purchaser was regarded as a taxable disposition to the outside purchaser rather than an exempt transfer to a group company. In defined . .
CitedIngram and Palmer-Tomkinson (Executors of the Estate of Lady Jane Lindsay Morgan Ingram Deceased) v Commissioners of Inland Revenue CA 28-Jul-1997
The deceased had first conveyed property to her solicitor. Leases back were then created in her favour, and then the freeholds were conveyed at her direction to her children and grandchildren. They were potentially exempt transfers.
Held: . .
CitedIngram and Another v Commissioners of Inland Revenue HL 10-Dec-1998
To protect her estate from Inheritance Tax, the deceased gave land to her solicitor, but then took back a lease. The solicitor then conveyed the land on freehold on to members of her family.
Held: The lease-back by the nominee was not void as . .
CitedGreenalls Management Ltd v Customs and Excise HL 12-May-2005
Volumes of vodka were transferred from a secure warehouse to a carrier for export. They were diverted, and not exported and the Customs sought the unpaid duty from the warehouse. The Directive provided that duty was payable on the ‘release for . .
CitedBelvedere Court Management Ltd v Frogmore Developments Ltd CA 24-Oct-1995
Landlords had sold flats to Frogmore without serving a section 5 notice under the 1987 Act. Prior to receipt of a purchase notice, Frogmore granted certain leases in the block of flats to another party.
Held: The agreements were upheld, and . .
CitedTotal Network Sl v Revenue and Customs HL 12-Mar-2008
The House was asked whether an action for unlawful means conspiracy was available against a participant in a missing trader intra-community, or carousel, fraud. The company appealed a finding of liability saying that the VAT Act and Regulations . .
CitedHarding v Revenue and Customs CA 23-Oct-2008
Lapsed Currency conversion option lost status
The taxpayer appealed his assessment to Capital Gains Tax on his redemption of loan notes arising following the sale of his computer company. He said that they were qualifying corporate bonds. The question was whether a security in which a currency . .
CitedScottish Widows Plc v Revenue and Customs SC 6-Jul-2011
The taxpayer insurance company had transferred sums from accounts designated as Capital Reserves. The Revenue said that these were properly part of the profit and loss accounts for the respective tax years, and chargeable receipts.
Held: The . .
CitedCampbell v Inland Revenue Commissioners SCIT 6-Jul-2004
SCIT INCOME TAX – Anti-Avoidance – Relevant discounted security – Loss on gift to wife – Subscription for security and gift part of scheme to produce loss – Avoidance not the Appellant’s sole purpose in . .
CitedCraven (IOT) v White (Stephen); Inland Revenue Commissioners v Bowater Property Developments HL 1989
In Craven, the taxpayers owned shares in Q Ltd. In early 1976 they began to negotiate with C Ltd for a merger of the two companies and steps were taken to establish an Isle of Man holding company to act as a vehicle for the taxpayers’ shares should . .
CitedJohn Mander Pension Trustees Ltd v Revenue and Customs SC 29-Jul-2015
The pension scheme had been approved, but that approval later withdraw. HMRC issued assessment for the years in which it had been approved. The taxpayer argued that such assessments applied to the date with effect from which the approval is . .
CitedShop Direct Group v Revenue and Customs SC 17-Feb-2016
The Court considered the interpretation of the sections which applied corporation tax to post-cessation receipts. Companies had received from the Inland Revenue substantial repayments of VAT together with interest. There had been reorganisations of . .
CitedUBS Ag and Another v Revenue and Customs SC 9-Mar-2016
UBS AG devised an employee bonus scheme to take advantage of the provisions of Chapter 2 of the 2003 Act, with the sole purpose other than tax avoidance, and such consequential advantages as would flow from tax avoidance. Several pre-ordained steps . .
CitedRFC 2012 Plc (Formerly The Rangers Football Club Plc) v Advocate General for Scotland SC 5-Jul-2017
The Court was asked whether an employee’s remuneration is taxable as his or her emoluments or earnings when it is paid to a third party in circumstances in which the employee had no prior entitlement to receive it himself or herself.
Held: The . .
CitedS Franses Limited v The Cavendish Hotel (London) Ltd SC 5-Dec-2018
The question which arises on this appeal is whether it is open to the landlord to oppose the grant of a new business tenancy if the works which he says that he intends to carry out have no purpose other than to get rid of the tenant and would not be . .
CitedHancock and Another v Revenue and Customs SC 22-May-2019
The taxpayers sold their shares in return for loan notes in the form of mixed qualifying (QCB) and non qualifying corporate bonds (Non-QCB) within section 115 of the 1992 Act. Gains on the disposal of QCB would be exempt from CGT. These were then . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Capital Gains Tax, Taxes Management

Leading Case

Updated: 09 February 2022; Ref: scu.181330