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Colonial Cases

Municipal Council v. Birt, 1876


Municipal Council v. Birt

Supreme Court for China and Japan
Mowat D.C.J., 25 September 1876
Source: The North China Herald, 30 September 1876




Shanghai, Sept, 25th.

Before E. A. MOWAT, Esq., Deputy Chief Judge.


   Mr. RENNIE appeared for the plaintiffs.

   Defendant conducted his own case.

   This was an action, instituted by the Municipal Council, to recover $31.50 for rates and taxes for certain property in Honan Road.

   Defendant disputed his liability, and wanted to know how it w as that he was summoned for property he neither occupied nor owned, and had nothing whatever to do with, beyond being the agent of the landlord.  The property did not belong to him, and he was summoned as the owner; and he did not occupy any portion of it.

   In reply to His Lordship, defendant said the property belonged to Mr. J. W. Wright, of London.

   Mr. RENNIE, in answer to the defendant's statement, said he was not aware of any agency whatever in the matter.  He produced a letter, dated June, 1873, and signed by William Birt and company.  Itv was addressed to Mr. A. J. Johnston, the former secretary of the Municipal Council, and asked that this particular property might be rated in a particular way.  Messrs. Birt and Co. were then treated as the owners of the property, and they had previously paid the taxes for it.  The Municipal Council had had no notification whatever that there had been any change in reference to this property.

   Mr. ROGGERS, the collector of rates, explained that former taxes had been paid by the defendant, but for some period the houses had been unoccupied.  They were now in the occupation of Chinese.  Some time ago he spoke to the defendant as to who was to pay the rates and taxes, and he (defendant) undertook to do so.

   His LORDSHIP - Did you undertake to pay, Mr. Birt?

   Defendant - I will not say I did undertake to pay, nor will I say I did not undertake to do so.  I should like to make a few remarks on the letter read by Mr. Rennie.  Itv was written in 1873, and since then there have been two different Land Assessment Committees, and consequently, the property has been twice assessed since that letter was sent.  Under such circumstances I think it irregular for such a letter to be read here.  If that letter can be used now, I maintain I have an equal right to dispute the last two assessments.

   The COURT - Your answer is that you are not liable because you are not the owner or occupier of the property.

   Mr. BIRT. - Quite so.

   Mr. RENNIE - The last assessment notes are signed "William Birt and Company." I addressed a letter to Mr. Birt requesting him to pay these taxes, and in reply he made no reference to the circumstances of the defence he now advances.

   The COURT - That does not at all preclude his making the defence.

   Mr. RENNIE said the defendant had never before disputed his liability to pay the taxes, and they could now amend the summons and make him the agent instead of the owner.

   Defendant asked for the summons to be dismissed; the Municipal authorities could take out another summons.  He had wished Mr. Hannen to appear for him on this occasion, but that gentleman had another engagement at the American Consulate.

   His LORDSHIP expressed his intention of adjourning the case; plaintiff's counsel now knew the defence he had to meet, and defendant's counsel might be able to attend on the adjourned day.

   Defendant said it was a pity the case should be adjourned, for he could prove from Mr. Souper's own lips that it was the custom for the occupier to pay taxes and not the landlord.  The property in this instance was a large printing establishment, supported by the local if not also the Imperial authorities, and there would not be the least difficulty in getting the taxes if they were applied for.  It would be a great pity to adjourn the case, for I think in two seconds your judgment would be that landlords are not primarily responsible for taxes.

   His LORDSHIP - I cannot decide anything in two seconds; at least I am not going to take the responsibility of deciding this case in two seconds.

   The further hearing of the case was then adjourned until two o'clock on Monday afternoon  next.


Source: The North China Herald, 5 October 1876



Shanghai, 2nd Oct.

Before R. A. MOWAT, Esq., Deputy Chief Judge.


   This was an action instituted by the Municipal Council to recover Tls. 31.50 for rates and taxes for the property, No. 8, Honan Road, and was partly heard on the 25th September, when it was adjourned to enable the defendant tom appear by his counsel.

   On the case being called, the plaintiffs did not appear, and his Lordship accordingly directed the case to be struck out.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School