Cheney v Conn – 1968

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Cheney v Conn [1968] 1 All ER 779

Affirmed statutes could not be held illegal by the judiciary as this would challenge the principle of Parliamentary supremacy.


The claimant, Cheney, asserted that the tax obligations placed on British citizens by the Finance Act 1964 were unlawful as the government partially used funds raised through taxation to fund nuclear weapons research, which contravened the Geneva Convention, as incorporated into English law by the Geneva Convention Act 1957. In defense, Conn (Inspector of Taxes) contended that the specific destination of tax funds was irrelevant to the legality of such taxation.


Whether the eventual usage of tax money and purpose for which it was collected could affect the legality of statutory taxation obligations.


The High Court found for the defendant, with Ungoed-Thomas J stating ‘If the purpose for which a statute may be used is an invalid purpose, then such remedy as there may be must be directed to dealing with that purpose and not to invalidating the statute itself’ [x]. He further reasoned that statutes are innately incapable of being illegal as the statute is itself law. As statutes are laws enacted by Parliament, to challenge them would be to challenge Parliament’s legislative supremacy. Whilst it should be generally assumed in legislative interpretation that Parliament was not seeking to override international commitments, they could undoubtedly do so if they wished and thus should any conflict arise between a statute and a convention, statutory law succeeds. Ultimately, ‘What Parliament enacts is the highest form of law’ [x].

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