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Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock: Wikis


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Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock (also known as "the negotiable cow") is a fictitious legal case written by the humorist A. P. Herbert for Punch magazine as part of his series of Misleading Cases in the Common Law. It was first published in book form in More Misleading Cases in the Common Law (Methuen, 1930).[1] The case did evolve into something of an urban legend, and periodically assertions are made that it was a true case.

R v Haddock, which redirects here, is the title of a number of Herbert's fictitious cases.


Summary of the case

The case[2] involved a Mr. Albert Haddock, who was often an ever-ingenious litigant in Herbert's writing. In this misleading case, Mr. Haddock had been in profound disagreement with the Collector of Taxes in relation to the size of his tax bill.

Mr Haddock complained that the sum demanded was excessive, particularly in view of the inadequate consideration which he believed that he received from that Government in terms of service.[3] Eventually the Collector of Taxes demanded the sum of fifty seven pounds, ten shillings.

One morning shortly thereafter Mr. Haddock appeared at the offices of the Collector of Taxes, and delivered to him a large white cow "of malevolent aspect". On the cow was stencilled in red ink:

To the London and Literary Bank, Limited
Pay the Collector of Taxes, who is no gentleman, or Order, the sum of fifty seven pounds £57/0/0 (and may he rot!)

Mr. Haddock tendered the cow to the Collector in payment of his tax bill and promptly demanded a receipt.

During the "hearing", the fictitious judge, Sir Basil String, enquired whether stamp duty had been paid on the negotiable instrument. The fictitious prosecutor, Sir Joshua Hoot KC confirmed that a two-penny stamp was affixed to the dexter horn of the cow.

The Collector declined the cow, and had objected that it would be impossible to pay the cow into a bank account. Perhaps unhelpfully, Mr Haddock suggested that the Collector could endorse the cow to any third party to whom the Collector might owe money, adding that "there must be many persons in that position".

Sir Joshua gravely informed the court that the Collector did in fact endeavour to endorse the cheque on its back, which was to say, in this case, on the abdomen of the cow. However, Sir Joshua explained: "[t]he cow ... appeared to resent endorsement and adopted a menacing posture."

The Collector then abandoned the attempt, and declined to take the cheque. Mr Haddock then led the cow away and was subsequently arrested in Trafalgar Square for causing an obstruction, leading to the co-joined criminal case, R. v Haddock.

Mr. Haddock testified that he had tendered a cheque in payment of income tax. A cheque was only an order to a bank to pay money to the person in possession of the cheque or a person named on the cheque, and there was nothing in statute or customary law to say that that order must be written on a piece of paper of any specified dimensions.

A cheque, Mr. Haddock argued, could be written on a piece of notepaper. While admitting he did not consider a cheque legal tender, he testified that he himself had "drawn cheques on the backs of menus, on napkins, on handkerchiefs, on the labels of wine bottles; all these cheques had been duly honoured by his bank and passed through the Bankers’ Clearing House". He thought that there was no distinction in law between a cheque written on a napkin and a cheque written on a cow.

When asked as to motive, he said he had not a piece of paper to hand. Horses and other animals used to be seen frequently in the streets of London. He admitted on cross-examination that he may have had in his mind an idea to ridicule the taxman. "But why not? There is no law against ridiculing the income tax."[2]

In relation to the criminal prosecution, Mr. Haddock said it was a nice thing if in the heart of the commercial capital of the world a man could not convey a negotiable instrument down the street without being arrested. If a disturbance was caused by a crowd, the policeman should arrest the crowd, not himself.

The judge, being heavily sympathetic to Mr. Haddock, found in his favour on both the tax claim and the prosecution for causing a disturbance. By tendering and being refused the cow, the other parties were estopped from then demanding it later.

Television adaptation

Board of Inland Revenue v. Haddock was dramatised for television as "The Negotiable Cow" by the BBC as the opening show of the first series of A. P. Herbert's Misleading Cases in 1967, with Roy Dotrice as Albert Haddock and Alastair Sim as Mr Justice Swallow.


Although the case itself is fictitious, due to its widespread notoriety (not to say plausibility) it has been referred to in actual judicial decisions. See for example, Messing v Bank of America (2002) at paragraph 1.[4] In Victor Chandeler International Ltd v The Commissioners of Custom and Excise and Teletext Limited[5] Mr Justice Lightman stated that a document, in the context of the Betting and Gaming Duties Act 1981, "must be inanimate: neither a person nor A.P. Herbert's 'negotiable cow' can constitute a document."

Herbert reported that the now defunct Memphis Press-Scimitar (formerly published by the E. W. Scripps Company) published an article on the case in 1967, mistakenly assuming it to have been factual.[6]

Stranger than fiction...

Negotiable instruments and other legal documents have from time to time been scribed onto strange and unusual surfaces. Documented cases provide illustrations of wills being written on the side of empty egg-shells,[7] and cheques being written on a variety of strange surfaces.[8]

What periodically ignites some debate is as to whether the law stated in the "case" is correct. It is true that negotiable instruments by law do not require paper form (and nowadays purely electronic documents are entirely common), and so long as they comply with basic legal requirements (i.e. contain an unconditional order to pay, the name of the drawer and drawee, the amount and a signature – see generally bill of exchange). However, in modern times most taxing statutes prescribe how payment of tax liabilities must be made. Furthermore, banks also usually impose limitations or additional fees in their standard terms and conditions for not using the bank's pre-printed stationery. As such, it now appears unlikely that an irate taxpayer will seek to settle his or her debts with a farmyard animal.

Similar cases

Another A. P. Herbert "misleading case" concerns "The egg of exchange". The question there was whether a cheque written on an egg could be paid into a bank, given the risk of the egg breaking or going bad. It was suggested that the cheque could be boiled.

Yet another "misleading case", also Inland Revenue v Haddock, was cited in a debate in the House of Lords on 14 July 2004.[9]. In this, Mr. Haddock successfully argued that, during a period where judges had their salaries reduced by 30% because of financial emergency, they could not hear cases relating to the Inland Revenue because they had a personal interest in the outcome.

In Jewish law a get can be written on any durable material, including the horn of a cow. If the horn is still attached to the cow, the husband must give the wife the whole cow (Mishnah Gittin 2.3).


  1. ^ A.P. Herbert's Misleading Cases
  2. ^ a b Herbert, Alan P. (1935), Uncommon Law, Great Britain: Methuen  
  3. ^ This is something of an inside joke for lawyers: contracts are only legally enforceable if each side provides something of value, which the law refers to as "consideration". However, the argument of Mr Haddock was not good in law; the doctrine of consideration does not apply to public debts, and even with respect to private debts, the court will never assess the adequacy of each side's consideration.
  4. ^ Messing v Bank of America
  5. ^ 1999 EWHC Ch 214, para 11 - see British and Irish Legal Information Institute
  6. ^ See report in Snopes Urban legends[1] and the definition of "chose in action" in this legal dictionary.
  7. ^ See Hodson v Barnes (1926) 43 TLR 71. The will was rejected from probate.
  8. ^ A commonly cited example is tax protests in the United Kingdom in the 1970s when taxpayers would print their cheques on rigid boards measuring approximately 3 feet by 1½ feet.[2]
  9. ^ Hansard report: House of Lords Hansard for 14 Jul 2004 (pt 23)

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