Mersey Docks and Harbour Board v Cameron

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Mersey Docks and Harbour Board v Cameron (1865) 29 JR 483

Affirmed that the Crown should not be held as bound by statutory law unless the law explicitly provides for such limitations

Facts

Historically, municipal docks were immune from the rates typically payable by docks to the Crown as a result of their connection with the State. However, the passing of new legislation served to introduce like rates on all docks. The claimant, Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, attempted to contest this, asserting that this statute violated the royal prerogative’s immunity from such rates.

Issues

Could a municipal dock be subject to rates per statutory law despite that they could be considered an emanation of the royal prerogative, which is generally considered immune to statute.

Held

The House of Lords found against the docks, deeming the rates charged to them legal. Further, the Crown’s prerogative should not be considered limited by any statute unless the Act specifically states such a limitation is being placed, or the objective of the Act clearly indicates that such a limitation may be necessary. Further, the Crown’s immunity extends to persons in consimili casu with persons acting on the royal prerogative so as to discharge duties. However, Mersey Docks and Harbour Board’s submission that they were such persons due to the publicly beneficial nature of their docks was not persuasive in the instant case. The fact that the claimants stood to directly profit from their activities served to negate a claim to rates exemption under the Crown’s prerogative.

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