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Colonial Cases

Shanghai Municipal Council v. Ward, 1914


Shanghai Municipal Council v. Ward

Supreme Court of China and Japan
Bourne A.J., 10 February 1914
Source: The Shanghai Times, 11 February 1914



Before Mr. F. S. A. BOURNE, C.M.G., Acting Judge.

Shanghai Municipal Council v. Thomas Ward.

In the British Supreme Court yesterday the hearing was resumed of the claim by the Municipal Council against Thomas Ward for certain taxes on land.  Mr. F. S. A. Bourne, C.M.G., heard the case.  In the morning an inspection was made of the land and the case resumed in the afternoon.  Mr. R. N. MacLeod represented plaintiffs and Mr. H. S. Oppe defendant.

  Mr. H. C. De Rijke, of the Engineering Department of the S.M.C., gave evidence as to the tides affecting the landing.

   His Lordship said that if the China Merchants own land which it is unnecessary for them to register and they are able to use it for the purposes of wharves or jetties, would they pay no taxation?

   Mr. C. Harpur who was re-examined answered: Not to the S.M.C., unless it is registered.

   Hus Lordship said there seemed to be something wrong.  He should think they would levy a tax when they saw the land being beneficially used.

   Witness said no tax was collected from property in the hands of Chinese.

   His Lordship: That is so.  They went on living in the same way when we came here but when they are competing with foreign trade they should have to pay taxes.  It is not equitable that they should get the benefits of foreign police and firemen and not pay for it.  Other foreign wharves would be paying for police, volunteers, fire brigade, etc., - it is horribly mean if nothing else.

   Mr. Macleod explained the question was receiving the attention of the Council.

   His Lordship said there ought to be some sort of machinery for collecting the taxes.  They could possibly put a restraint on the land.  If the people were Japanese they could go to the Japanese Consulate and take out a writ and say the owners owed so much.  They surely did not allow people to go on fifty years without paying taxes simply because they did not Sheng-ko.

   It was the duty of a judge at all events to take notice of such a matter because they were concerned not only with justice being done in this case but with justice being done generally without interfering with the business of others.

   Mr. Oppe, opening the case for the defence, said the case was fought on the principle that the council were claiming more taxes than they were entitled to recover and because they were claiming these under a basis which wass unprecedented in Shanghai, namely, that they had put on the same piece of land alternative values (1) that of the assessors for assessment and (2) an assessment to come into effect at a future data to be decided at the discretion of the council.  The system not only was unauthorized but extremely inconvenient.

   Counsel then dealt with the question of the Whangpoo Conservancy and said that according to Treaty riparian owners had first right to reclaimed land.

   His Worship - People amuse themselves by making rules which are never followed.

   Continuing, Mr. Oppe said the council had no more right to ask the valuers to value this foreshore land than to ask them to value a piece of land going to the Settlement boundary and then beyond, that valuation to take effect when extension took place.

   In conclusion, Counsel said the alternative valuation was simply for the guidance of the council.  In the opinion of defendant when he received the debit note on the Tls. 7,000 valuation that time had not yet arrived and he refused to pay.  It was a very large assumption but if the council could obtain that rate they had no power to impose it at their own discretion.  The question was whether the time had now come for the imposition of the rate or whether the land ought to be valued again and the thing done in a proper legal form backed up by a resolution of the ratepayers.

   His Lordship said there was one unsatisfactory feature.  The ratepayers ought to have an immediate right if a rehearing before being driven to Court.  An appeal to the Finance Committee was not quite satisfactory.  He should have thought the Land Commission might be appealed to.  He did not know if that were possible but as Mr. Oppe said the Finance Committee were the people interested and did not constitute a good Court of Appeal.  The rate payers should have some body to whom they could go at once in case of a mistake, which might easily happen, on the part of the assessors.

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