Pepper v Hart [1993] AC 593

Key point

  • The Hansard may be referred to, departing from previous authority, where legislation was ambiguous, obscure or led to absurdity and the statements relied upon were clear

Facts

  • Hart and others teachers at a private school were offered a “concessionary fee” scheme by the school for their children, which allowed them to be educated at a reduced rate at the school
  • The cost of the benefit was to be subject to income tax under S63 Finance Act 1976
  • Inland Revenue argued the “cost” of the benefit was the average cost of educating each child, which would come up to more than £1m, while the Hart and the others argued that the cost should be a marginal cost
  • Hart sought judicial review, seeking to rely on ministerial statements in Parliament when the Finance Act was being passed, which were recorded in Hansard
  • Courts could previously not rely on the use of Hansard in interpreting legislation due to Parliamentary Privilege
  • The High Court and Court of Appeal held that the cost was an average cost, and did not address the Hansard argument

Issue

  • Could the courts incorporate the use of Hansard into their interpretation of legislation?

Held (House of Lords)

  • Appeal allowed; the cost was a marginal cost
  • The majority held that the Hansard may be referred to, departing from previous authority, where legislation was ambiguous, obscure or led to absurdity and the statements relied upon were clear
  • Such reference to the Hansard did not impeach Parliamentary Privilege or contravene Article 9 Bill of Rights 1689

Lord Browne-Wilkinson (Majority Judgment)

  • ‘Relaxation of the [article 9] will not involve the courts in criticising what is said in Parliament. The purpose of looking at Hansard will not be to construe the words used by the Minister but to give effect to the words used so long as they are clear. Far from questioning the independence of Parliament and its debates, the courts would be giving effect to what is said and done there’: p. 638H

Lord Mackey (Dissenting)

  • He agreed with the House on the interpretation of the Finance Act but did so without the use of Hansard analysis, arguing it was not appropriate
  • His reasons for dissenting were based on practicality; additional civil litigation costs by having to research the parliamentary history of a statute