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Landmark case provides a window onto the nature, role and dangers of tax practice.

In her latest chapter, Professor Chantal Stebbings shows how the case of Farmer v Glyn-Jones [1903] 2 KB 6 was an action deliberately initiated by William Glyn-Jones as the Secretary of the Chemists’ Defence Association in order to provoke a definitive judicial ruling on the right of qualified chemists and druggists to recommend and sell recognised medicines free from the medicine stamp duty. In assigning a definitive meaning to the words of this statutory exemption, the case was of real substantive technical importance, but it was also an administrative landmark in that it caused a change from a practice which had for over a century regarded the exemption as a dead letter to one which allowed it in its full vigour with minimal restriction. In so doing it entirely disregarded the statutory provision itself and aspects of the court decision which purported authoritatively to interpret it, and illustrates with unique clarity the dangers of bureaucratic law-making: the inevitable and complete domination of an unsound statutory code by illegal and unconstitutional executive practice. Its administration became its substance, and that was untenable. A reactive judiciary, apathetic legislature, complacent executive and astute taxpaying body combined to produce a legally unsound, politically indefensible and fiscally unsustainable tax. Farmer v Glyn-Jones not only set in train a chain of events that led to the abolition of the very tax it addressed, but in so doing provided the most acute window onto the nature, role and dangers of tax practice.

‘Farmer v Glyn-Jones’ is published in in D. de Cogan and J. Snape, eds., Landmark Cases in Revenue Law (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2019) pp.49-65.