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R v IRC, ex parte National Federation of Self-Employed

[1982] AC 617

Case summary last updated at 08/01/2020 14:23 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case R v IRC, ex parte National Federation of Self-Employed

Inland Revenue (IRC) offered a tax amnesty to a class of workers who had previously evaded tax. NFSE sought a declaration that IRC had exceeded its power. HL held that NFSE had no standing, as they did not satisfy the “sufficient interest” test, set out in Supreme Court Act (see above) because a taxpayer’s interest alone is insufficient. The lords agreed that standing was to be determined if possible at the permission stage but sometimes it would be necessary to return to this at a substantive hearing where locus standi depended upon the PAs powers, decision etc. 
Lord Wilberforce: The question of sufficient standing can be dealt with at the earliest possible stage (see week 6 reading- permission stage) in cases where P has obviously failed the sufficient interest test, so as to prevent the courts from being flooded. However in other cases it may need to be heard at the actual JR hearing because in some cases whether P has standing will depend upon the range of D’s powers and the consequence of their misuse. Sometimes “the question of sufficient interest can not…be considered in the abstract or on an isolated point: It must be taken together with the legal and factual context.” NB the test of “sufficient interest” is about whether a person can bring the case in the first place. However a higher degree of interest may be required for the remedy of mandamus to apply-He is alone in thinking this. Diplock and the others reject this. A taxpayer’s interest alone is inadequate to cofer locus standi. 
Lord Diplock: The permission stage is usefully used to exclude claims made by “busybodies with misguided or trivial complaints” and to allow public authorities to safely proceed with effecting their decision. NB his later comments though: “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of public law if a pressure group, like the federation, or even a single public-spirited taxpayer, were prevented by outdated technical rules of locus standi from bringing the matter to the attention of the court to vindicate the rule of law and get the unlawful conduct stopped.” To say that the office of AG is sufficient and hence no representative standing is needed is wrong: In practice AG never takes action against govt departments. It is also not enough to say that departments are accountable to parl: They are responsible to the court to account for the lawfulness of what they do “and of that the court is the only judge.” With the majority, he said Wilberforce was wrong about having different tests for standing and remedies such as mandamus. The “sufficient interest” test was the same for both. 
Lord Fraser: “The correct look at the statute under which the duty arises, and to see whether it gives any express or implied right to persons in the position of the applicant to complain of the alleged unlawful act or omission.” 

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