Macarthys v Smith

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Macarthys Ltd v Smith [1979] (Case 129/79)

Established that domestic law ought be interpreted in light of EC law, with EC law prevailing in the event of conflict.


The claimant, Ms Smith, was a factory employee of the defendants, Macarthys, for which she received a salary of £50 per week. She complained that the man who had previously held the same job in the company had received £60 per week, and thus that the defendants were in breach of both the British Equal Pay Act 1970, as well as Article 119 of the EC Treaty. The defendants contended that the domestic statute was inapplicable as it did not provide for comparisons of salary with former employees to which Ms Smith responded that this did not negate the applicability of EC law in which comparisons were permitted. Further, Ms Smith submitted that where UK and EC legislation was incompatible on the matter, EC law would prevail.


Whether UK or EC law ought have supremacy in the event of conflict.


The Court of Appeal found against Ms Smith, on the grounds that EC treaties were not a factor in the interpretation of domestic law. Notably Lord Denning dissented, on the grounds that the Court ought presume that Parliament ‘intends to fulfil its obligations under the Treaty’ and had not given any indication that it thought earlier British law ought prevail over EC laws on the matter.

The case was then referred to the European Court of Justice where it was held that Ms Smith was entitled to compare her salary with that of a former employee, giving approval to the statement provided by Lord Denning in dissent. Subsequently, the Court of Appeal then found for Ms Smith as per the European court’s order.

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