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Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgments
  2. Chapter one: Defining the constitution
  3. Chapter two: Parliamentary sovereignty
  4. Chapter three: The rule of law and the separation of powers
    1. Entick v Carrington (1765) 19 St. Tr. 1030
    2. Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223
    3. Liversidge v Anderson and Another [1942] AC 207; [1941] 3 All ER 338
    4. London Tramway Co. v London County Council [1898] AC 375
    5. Harris v Minister of the Interior (no.2) (1952) 4 SA 769; in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa
    6. Collins v Minister of the Interior [1957] 1 SA 552 (AD); in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa.
    7. R v Inland Revenue Commissioners and others, ex parte Rossminster Ltd (CA) [1980] AC 952; [1979] 3 All ER 385
    8. R v Medical Appeal Tribunal, ex parte Gilmore [1957] 1 QB 574 (CA)
    9. Anisminic v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147; [1969] 1 All ER 208
    10. Practice Direction - Judicial Precedent [1966] 3 All ER 77 (HL)
    11. R v R (Rape: marital exemption) [1991] 4 All ER 481
    12. R v C [2004] EWCA Crim 292: [2004] 3 All ER 1: [2004] 1 WLR 2098 (CA).
    13. Re Spectrum Plus Ltd [2005] UKHL 41; [2005] 4 All ER 209
  5. Chapter four: The royal prerogative
  6. Chapter five: The House of Commons
  7. Chapter six: The House of Lords
  8. Chapter seven: The electoral system
  9. Chapter eight: Parliamentary privilege
  10. Chapter nine: Constitutional conventions
  11. Chapter ten: Local government
  12. Chapter eleven: Parliamentary sovereignty within the European Union
  13. Chapter twelve: The governance of Scotland and Wales
  14. Chapter thirteen: Substantive grounds of judicial review 1: illegality, irrationality and proportionality
  15. Chapter fourteen: Procedural grounds of judicial review
  16. Chapter fifteen: Challenging governmental decisions: the process
  17. Chapter sixteen: Locus standi
  18. Chapter seventeen: Human rights I: Traditional perspectives
  19. Chapter eighteen: Human rights II: Emergent principles
  20. Chapter nineteen: Human rights III: New substantive grounds of review
  21. Chapter twenty: Human rights IV: The Human Rights Act 1998
  22. Chapter twenty-one: Human rights V: The impact of The Human Rights Act 1998
  23. Chapter twenty-two: Human rights VI: Governmental powers of arrest and detention
  24. Chapter twenty-three: Leaving the European Union

R v Inland Revenue Commissioners and others, ex parte Rossminster Ltd (CA) [1980] AC 952; [1979] 3 All ER 385

LORD DENNING MR:.... It was a military style operation. It was carried out by officers of the Inland Revenue in their war against tax frauds. Zero hour was fixed for 7 am on Friday, 13 July 1979. Everything was highly secret.....They were divided into teams each with a leader....It would be empowered to use force if need be....At 7 am there was a knock on each door. One was the home in Kensington of Mr Ronald Anthony Plummer, a chartered accountant. It was opened by his daughter aged 11. He came downstairs in his dressing-gown. The officers of the Inland Revenue were at the door....The householder Mr Plummer put up no resistance. He let them in. They went to his filing cabinet and removed a large number of files. They went to the safe and took building society passbooks, his children's cheque books and...his daughter's school report...

As far as my knowledge of history goes, there has been no search like it, and no seizure like it, in England since that Saturday, 30 April 1763, when the Secretary of State issued a general warrant by which he authorised the King's messengers to arrest John Wilkes and seize all his books and papers. They took everything, all his manuscripts and all papers whatsoever. His pocket-book filled up the mouth of the sack. He applied to the courts. Pratt CJ struck down the general warrant. You will find it all set out in R v Wilkes, Huckle v Money and Entick v Carrington. Pratt CJ said (2 Wils 205 at 207):

"To enter a man's house by virtue of a nameless warrant, in order to procure evidence, is worse than the Spanish inquisition; a law under which no Englishman would wish to live an hour; it was a most daring public attack made upon the liberty of the subject".

Now we have to see in this case whether this warrant was valid or not. It all depends of course on the statute.... It is by s. 20C....

Many will ask: why has Parliament done this? Why have they allowed this search and seizure by the Revenue officers? It did it here because the Board of Inland Revenue were very worried by the devices used by some wicked people, such as those (and we often see such cases in our courts) who keep two sets of books: one for themselves to use; the other to be shown to the Revenue. Those who make out two invoices: one for the customer; the other to be shown to the taxman. Those who enter into fictitious transactions and write them into their books as genuine. Those who show losses when they have in fact made gains....Those who defraud the Revenue in this way are parasites who suck out the life-blood of our society. The trouble is that the legislation is drawn so widely that in some hands it might be an instrument of oppression....Once great power is granted, there is a danger of it being abused. Rather than risk such abuse, it is, as I see it, the duty of the courts so to construe the statute as to see that it encroaches as little as possible on the liberties of the people of England.....

The warrant is challenged on the ground that it does not specify any particular offence....

The vice of a general warrant of this kind, which does not specify any particular offence, is twofold. It gives no help to the officers when they have to exercise it. It means also that they can roam wide and large, seizing and taking pretty well all a man's documents and papers.

There is some assistance to be found in the cases. I refer to the law about arrest, when a man is arrested under a warrant for an offence. It is then established by a decision of the House of Lords that the warrant has to specify the particular offence with which the man is charged: see Christie v Leachinsky [1947] 1 All ER 567....

So it seems to me, as a matter of construction of the statute and therefore of the warrant, in pursuance of our traditional role to protect the liberty of the individual, it is our duty to say that the warrant must particularise the specific offence which is charged as being fraud on the tax.

If this be right, it follows necessarily that this warrant is bad. It should have specified the particular offence of which the man is suspected.

On further apppeal to the House of Lords; [1980] AC 952

LORD WILBERFORCE:....The integrity and privacy of a man's home, and of his place of business, an important human rights has, since the Second World War, been eroded by a number of statutes passed by Parliament in the belief, presumably, that this right of privacy ought in some cases to be overridden by the interest which the public has in preventing evasions of the law....A formidable number of officials now have powers to enter people's premises, and to take property away, and these powers are frequently exercised, sometimes on a large scale. Many people, as well as the respondents, think that this process has gone too far; that is an issue to be debated in Parliament and in the Press.

The courts have the duty to supervise, I would say critically, even jealously, the legality of any purported exercise of these powers. They are the guardians of the citizens' right to privacy. But they must do this in the context of the times, ie of increasing Parliamentary intervention, and of the modern power of judicial review. In my respectful opinion appeals to 18th century precedents of arbitrary action by Secretaries of State and references to general warrants do nothing to throw light on the issue. Furthermore, while the courts may look critically at legislation which impairs the rights of citizens and should resolve any doubt in interpretation in their favour, it is no part of their duty, or power, to restrict or impede the working of legislation, even of unpopular legislation; to do so would be to weaken rather than to advance the democratic process....

I can understand very well the perplexity, and indeed indignation, of those present on the premises, when they were searched. Beyond knowing, as appears in the warrant, that the search was in connection with a 'tax fraud', they were not told what the precise nature of the fraud was, when it was committed, or by whom it was committed....But, on the plain words of the enactment, the officers are entitled, if they can persuade the Board and the judge, to enter and search premises regardless of whom they belong to: a warrant which confers this power is strictly and exactly within the Parliamentary authority, and the occupier has no answer to it....

The appeals must be allowed and the judgment and orders of the Court of Appeal set aside.