Raymond Yeung Tax Consultant former Assessor of Inland Revenue Department 前稅局評稅主任楊輝洪

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There are three basic rules of interpretation of tax law, namely:


The Literal Rule: Words must be given their literal, grammatical meaning. Words in old statues are given the meaning they had when it was enacted. Words appearing more than once in the same Ordinance must usually be given the same meaning. The duty of court is to interpret the words that the legislature has use. If a statute so interpreted is clear and produces hardship, the remedy is a new statue; it is not the duty of a judge to fill in the gaps.


The Golden Rule: Words should be construed in their grammatical and ordinary sense. In the case Becke versus Smith 1836, the judge said: “It is very useful in the construction of a statute to adhere to the ordinary meaning of the words used, and to the grammatical construction, unless that is at variance with the intention of the legislature to be repugnance, in which case the language may be varied or modified so as to avoid such inconvenience, but no further”. In other words, words should not be construed out of its context; nor should their meaning be twisted to fit in a peculiar situation.


The Mischief Rule: The court should look at the mischief for which the Ordinance was to remedy. This rule may be adopted in considering a relief or an exemption --- that is to look at the true intent of the legislation --- what relief or exemption is to grant. This rule of interpretation was adopted in an Estate Duty case, Foo Ying v Commissioner of Estate Duty 3 HKTC 363, which concerned Quick Succession Relief. Note: this rule is inapplicable when considering a legislation imposing a duty or a charge. 


There is no equity in the interpretation of tax law. Click here to read what the judge said in the case Wong Tai Wai David versus CIR.


Can the IRD be estopped from carrying out its statutory obligations? In the Board of Review case D30/04, the taxpayer asked the Board of Review to stop IRD from carrying out Section 61 of the Inland Revenue Ordinance. Press here for the Board's decision.


Click here for more on interpretation of tax law .


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