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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

Special reduction: Case law on the meaning of ‘special circumstances’ in the context of non penalty laws

The courts accept that for circumstances to be special they must be ‘exceptional, abnormal or unusual’ (Crabtree v Hinchcliffe) or ‘something out of the ordinary run of events’ (Clarks of Hove Ltd v Bakers’ Union).

The following brief extracts reflect two House of Lords judgments that discuss the meaning of ‘special circumstances’ in cases not involving penalty law. More detailed extracts are at CH175220 if required.

Clarks of Hove Ltd v Bakers’ Union [1979] All ER 152

The House of Lords considered the meaning of ‘special circumstances’ in the context of employment law. At 159 Geoffrey Lane LJ said:

‘In other words, to be special the event must be something out of the ordinary, something uncommon; and that is the meaning of the word ‘special’ in the context of this Act.’

Crabtree v Hinchcliffe (Inspector of Taxes) [1971] 3 All ER 967 Lord Reid said:

 ’‘Special’ must mean unusual or uncommon—perhaps the nearest word to it in this context is ‘abnormal’.’

At 983 Viscount Dilhorne said:

‘For circumstances to be special must be exceptional, abnormal or unusual and the mere fact that directors have knowledge which would affect the prices quoted if made public cannot, in my view, be regarded as an unusual circumstance.’