Bates's Case

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Bates's Case was an important English legal case in the Court of the Exchequer in 1606. The case is sometimes cited as the Case of Impositions.

John Bates was a merchant of the Levant Company. He refused to pay the import duty on currants imposed by James I, and the matter was taken to the Court of the Exchequer. Bates lost, and this had the effect that such impositions were extended, giving the Treasury a "windfall".[1]

The significance of the case in the long run was that if the Crown could levy taxes without resorting to Parliament, one of the main reasons for that body's existence might disappear, thus perhaps allowing the King to dispense with Parliaments altogether, although this did not really become apparent until the reign of Charles I.[2]

The judgement of the Barons of the Exchequer was that

The power of the king is both ordinary and absolute. Ordinary power, which exists for the purpose of civil justice, is unalterable save by consent of Parliament. Absolute power, existing for the nation's safety, varies with the royal wisdom.[3]

It followed that the Crown could impose a duty on imported currants if this was done to regulate foreign trade, and not simply to raise revenue.[4]

Sir Richard Lane's Reports in the court of exchequer, published posthumously in 1657, contained an important report of Sir Thomas Fleming's opinion in this case.[5]

Chief Baron Fleming, who came from a family of merchants, displayed a notable contempt for the business community in his opinion. To the argument that the common good requires merchants to have unrestricted access to foreign markets, he made the scathing reply that "the end of every private merchant is not the common good but his particular profit".


  1. ^ Sharp, David (2000). "2 James I's reign 1603 - 25". The Coming of the Civil War, 1603 - 49. Heinemann Advanced History. Heinemann. p. 30. ISBN 0-435-32713-5. 
  2. ^ Kenyon, J.P. The Stuart Constitution 2nd Ed. Cambridge University Press 1986 pp.47-8
  3. ^ Dalzell Chalmers, Sir Cyril Asquith, Owen Hood Phillips, Chalmers and Hood Phillips' Constitutional laws of Great Britain (Sweet & Maxwell, 1946), p. 178
  4. ^ Chalmers, Asquith, & Phillips, p. 170
  5. ^ D. A. Orr, 'Lane, Sir Richard (bap. 1584, d. 1650)', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition (subscription required), accessed 27 January 2011