The Case of the Negotiable Cow

Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock; Rex v Haddock

This month Hong Kong Lawyer introduces a new section, Stare Decisis. It will appear from time to time to remind you that the law has its humorous side as well. This month’s case is from AP Herbert’s ‘Misleading Cases’ – originally published in the English magazine Punch.

Sir Joshua Hoot, KC (appearing for the Public Prosecutor): Sir Basil, these summonses, by leave of the Court, are being heard together, an unusual but convenient arrangement.

The defendant, Mr Albert Haddock, has for many months, in spite of earnest endeavours on both sides, been unable to establish harmonious relations between himself and the Collector of Taxes. The Collector maintains that Mr Haddock should make over a large part of his earnings to the Government. Mr Haddock replies that the proportion demanded is excessive, in view of the inadequate services or consideration which he himself has received from that Government. After an exchange of endearing letters, telephone calls, and even cheques, the sum demanded was reduced to fifty-seven pounds; and about this sum the exchange of opinions continued.

On the 31st of May the Collector was diverted from his respectable labours by the apparition of a noisy crowd outside his windows. The crowd, Sir Basil, had been attracted by Mr Haddock, who was leading a large white cow of malevolent aspect. On the back and sides of the cow were clearly stencilled in red ink the following words:


Pay the Collector of Taxes, who is no gentleman, or Order, the sum of fifty-seven pounds (and may he rot!) L 57/10/0 ALBERT HADDOCK

Mr Haddock conducted the cow into the Collector’s office, tendered it to the Collector in payment of income tax and demanded a receipt.

Sir Basil String: Did the cow bear the statutory stamp?

Sir Joshua: Yes, a two-penny stamp was affixed to the dexter horn. The Collector declined to accept the cow, objecting that it would be difficult or even impossible to pay the cow into the bank. Mr Haddock, throughout the interview, maintained the friendliest demeanour; and he now remarked that the Collector could endorse the cow to any third party to whom he owed money, adding that there must be many persons in that position. The Collector then endeavoured to endorse the cheque...

Sir Basil String: Really? Where?

Sir Joshua: On the back of the cheque, Sir Basil, that is to say, on the abdomen of the cow. The cow, however, appeared to resent endorsement and adopted a menacing posture. The Collector, abandoning the attempt, declined finally to take the cheque. Mr Haddock led the cow away and was arrested in Trafalgar Square for causing an obstruction. He has also been summoned by the Board of Inland Revenue for non-payment of income tax.

Mr Haddock’s Testimony, Summarised

Mr Haddock, in the witness box, said that he had tendered a cheque in payment of income tax, and if the Commissioners did not like his cheque they could do the other thing. A cheque was only an order to a bank to pay money to the person in possession of the cheque or a person named on the cheque. There was nothing in statute or customary law to say that that order must be written on a piece of paper of specified dimensions. A cheque, it was well known, could be written on a piece of notepaper. He himself had drawn cheques on the backs of menus, on napkins, on handkerchiefs, on the labels of wine bottles; all these cheques had been duly honoured by his bank and passed through the Bankers’ Clearing House. He could see no distinction in law between a cheque written on a napkin and a cheque written on a cow. The essence of each document was a written order to pay money, made in the customary form and in accordance with statutory requirements as to stamps, etc. A cheque was admittedly not legal tender in the sense that it could not lawfully be refused; but it was accepted by custom as a legitimate form of payment. There were funds in his bank sufficient to meet the cow; the Commissioners might not like the cow, but, the cow having been tendered, they were estopped from charging him with failure to pay.

As to the action of the police, Mr Haddock said it was a nice thing if in the heart of the commercial capital of the world a man could not convey a negotiable instrument down the street without being arrested. He has instituted proceedings against Constable Boot for false imprisonment.

Cross-examined as to motive, the witness said that he had no chequeforms available and, being anxious to meet his obligations promptly, had made use of the only material to hand. Later he admitted that there might have been present in his mind a desire to make the Collector of Taxes ridiculous. But why not? There was no law against deriding the income tax.

Sir Basil’s Decision

Sir Basil String (after hearing further evidence): This case has at least brought to the notice of the Court a citizen who is unusual both in his clarity of mind and integrity of behaviour. No thinking man can regard those parts of the Finance Acts which govern the income tax with anything but contempt. There may be something to be said – not much, but something – for taking from those who have inherited wealth a certain proportion of that wealth for the service of the State and the benefit of the poor and needy; and those who by their own ability, brains, industry, and exertion have earned money may reasonably be invited to surrender a small portion of it towards the maintenance of those public services by which they benefit, to wit, the Police, the Navy, the Army, the public sewers, and so forth.

But to compel such individuals to bestow a large part of their earnings upon other individuals, who prosper by way of pensions, unemployment grants, or education allowances, is manifestly barbarous and indefensible. Yet this is the law. The original and only official basis of taxation was that individual citizens, in return for their money, received collectively some services from the State, the defense of their property and persons, the care of their health or the education of their children. All that has now gone. Citizen A, who has earned money, is commanded simply to give it to Citizens B, C, and D, who have not, and by force of habit this has come to be regarded as a normal and proper proceeding, whatever the comparative industry or merits of Citizens A, B, C, and D. To be alive has become a virtue, and the mere capacity to inflate the lungs entitles Citizen B to a substantial share in the laborious earnings of Citizen A.

The defendant, Mr Haddock, repels and resents this doctrine, but, since it has received the sanction of Parliament, he dutifully complies with it. Hampered by practical difficulties, he took the first steps he could to discharge his legal obligations to the State. Paper was not available, so he employed, instead, a favourite cow. Now, there can be nothing obscene, offensive, or derogatory in the presentation of a cow to one man by another. Indeed, in certain parts of our Empire the cow is venerated as a sacred animal.

Payment in kind is the oldest form of payment, and payment in kind more often than not meant payment in cattle. Indeed, during the Saxon period, Mr Haddock tells us, cattle were described as viva pecunia, or ‘living money’, from their being received as payment on most occasions, at certain regulated prices. So that, whether the cheque was valid or not, it was impossible to doubt the validity of the cow; and whatever the Collector’s distrust of the former it was at least his duty to accept the latter and credit Mr Haddock’s account with its value. But, as Mr Haddock stated in his able argument, an order to pay is an order to pay, whether it is made on the back of an envelope or on the back of a cow.

The evidence of the bank is that Mr Haddock’s account was in funds. From every point of view, therefore, the Collector of Taxes did wrong, by custom if not by law, in refusing to take the proffered animal, and the summons issued at his instance will be discharged.

As for the second charge, I hold again that Constable Boot did wrong. It cannot be unlawful to conduct a cow through the London streets. The horse, at the present time a much less useful animal, constantly appears in those streets without protest, and the motor-car, more unnatural and unattractive still, is more numerous than either animal.

Much less can the cow be regarded as an improper or unlawful companion when it is invested (as I have shown) with all the dignity of a bill of exchange.

If people choose to congregate in one place upon the apparition of Mr Haddock with a promissory cow, than Constable Boot should arrest the people, not Mr Haddock.

Possibly, if Mr Haddock had paraded Cockspur Street with a paper cheque for one million pounds made payable to bearer, the crowd would have been as great, but that is not to say that Mr Haddock would have broken the law. In my judgment Mr Haddock has behaved throughout in the manner of a perfect knight, citizen, and taxpayer. The charge brought by the Crown is dismissed; and I hope with all my heart that in his action against Constable Boot Mr Haddock will be successful. What is the next case, please?


由本期起,我們將跟大家分享 一些有趣或不尋常的案例。相信大家已經或快將收到稅單。不知你們會否考慮以下述案例中 Haddock 先生所採用的方法繳稅呢?

Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock; Rex v Haddock

案中被告人 Albert Haddock 先生被控以兩項罪名,分別是未有繳稅及阻街。到底事出何由呢?

據控方指出,Haddock 先生一直為繳納入息稅問題與稅務官爭持不下,他認為,政府並沒有為普羅大眾提供實質的服務,為什麼他還要繳納重稅?經過一輪爭議,Haddock 先生的應繳稅額被下調至五十七英鎊。

到了某天,稅務官如常在辦公室埋首工作之際,街上突然傳來一陣陣擾攘聲。原來 Haddock 先生攜帶著一張巨型「支票」前往稅務局繳稅,而沿途吸引了大批市民圍觀,因為這張「支票」是一頭活生生的母牛!牠的右角繫上了面值兩便士的郵票,身上則寫有這些字句﹕




Haddock 先生拖著這張大「支票」,昂然進入的辦公室繳稅,並要求稅務官給予收據。但稅務官拒收這張「支票」,因為他根本不可能將之交給銀行。Haddock 先生於是建議稅務官在「支票」上背書,將之轉給某些債權人,但母牛看來不容許稅務官在牠的腹部背書,更擺出預備襲擊稅務官之勢。稅務官結果斷然拒收這張「支票」。隨後警方在特拉法爾加廣場拘捕 Haddock 先生,指他帶著母牛引致阻街。與此同時,稅務局向他發出傳票,控告他欠繳稅款。


對於未有繳稅的指控,Haddock 先生作供時聲稱,他確曾向稅務官交付有效的支票,而成文法和習慣法均沒有規定只能在指定大小的紙張上開支票。他稱自己曾在菜單、餐巾、手帕、酒瓶標簽等物品上開支票,而這些支票全都順利兌現。既然如此,在母牛身上開出的支票為何不能獲接納呢?案中實情是稅務官拒收支票,因此稅務局不能反過來指他未有繳稅。他接受盤問時指出,當時他身旁沒有支票簿,只有一頭母牛,因此,急於履行繳稅責任的他,唯有在母牛身上開支票。他又承認曾經想過令稅務官成為笑柄,但認為法律沒有禁止人們對入息稅冷嘲熱諷。

至於阻街的指控,Haddock 先生認為,在一個國際商業中心城市,假如連一名攜帶支票在街道上行走的普通人也遭警方拘捕,這實在令人難以置信。事實上,Haddock 先生已提出訴訟,控告警方非法禁錮。


法官指出了入息稅制的不公平之處 為何有賺錢能力的人需要繳稅以協助那些倚靠援助金過活的人?Haddock  先生顯然也對稅制感到不滿,但正如任何奉公守法的市民一樣,他確曾儘可能及早繳稅。


法官指出,案中證據顯示 Haddock 先生的銀行戶口存有足夠金錢以兌現支票。此外,正如 Haddock 先生所說,「付款指示就是付款指示,不論寫在信封背面還是寫在牛背上都沒有分別。」因此,稅務官拒收母牛是錯誤的。指控 Haddock 先生沒有繳稅的傳票,須予以撤銷。

至於阻街控罪,法官亦裁定該控罪不成立。在倫敦,馬匹經常在街上出現,而比動物「更不自然和不吸引」的汽車,亦隨處可見。拖帶牛隻在街上行走是絕對正常的,更何況是當牛隻屬於「尊貴莊嚴」的匯票的時候呢?如果人們選擇在 Haddock 先生和其母牛行經的地方集結,警方應當拘捕的是該些人士而不是 Haddock 先生。

法官最後還稱讚 Haddock 先生在整件事上的表現,指他是一名不可多得的市民和納稅人。法官更表示希望 Haddock 先生成功控告警方非法禁錮!

【案件摘錄自 AP Herbert 著  Misleading Cases,原載於英國雜誌 Punch。】