Ramsay as a guide to statutory construction
Ramsay as a guide to statutory construction

The following Tax practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Ramsay as a guide to statutory construction
  • What was new about Ramsay?
  • Tax law before Ramsay—Lord Steyn's summary
  • The Ramsay principle in one sentence
  • Not a judicial anti-avoidance rule
  • Rejection of Ramsay as an anti-avoidance rule
  • Does Ramsay apply to all taxes?
  • Purposive statutory construction
  • Prizedome
  • Drummond
  • More...

Ramsay as a guide to statutory construction

Lexis®PSL Tax is grateful to Nigel Doran of Macfarlanes LLP for his comments on an earlier draft of this Practice Note. However, the views expressed are those of Lexis®PSL Tax.

The Ramsay principle (or Ramsay doctrine) refers to an approach to statutory interpretation that has been developed by the courts in cases involving tax avoidance. It began with the landmark decision by the House of Lords in WT Ramsay in 1981.

The principle was restated by the House of Lords in BMBF v Mawson in 2004, and a result some cases refer to the principle by reference to BMBF (or Mawson) rather than Ramsay, but for consistency this Practice Note, and its related Practice Notes, refer to the Ramsay principle.

The Ramsay principle can, with a large amount of generalisation, be summarised as:

  1. look at the law—what did Parliament intend when it chose those words?

  2. look at the facts—should an individual transaction be considered as part of a wider context?

  3. in light of the first two steps, how does the law apply to these facts?

This Practice Note provides a general introduction to the Ramsay principle, and concludes with a description of some cases which have hinged almost exclusively on taking a Ramsay approach to the law (without any re-appraisal of the facts) when construing the relevant legislation.

For a description of

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