Exchequer, Court Of Exchequer
excise revenue duty spirits king duties common england kingdom chancellor
EXCHEQUER, COURT OF EXCHEQUER, EXCHEQUER CHAMBER. The name scaccarium, from which the word "exchequer" is derived, was used under the Norman kings of England to signify the treasury. Madox, in his learned History of the Exchequer, exhausts the possible definitions of the word. According to some, it is connected with scaccus or scaccum, a chess-board, and the exchequer of England " was in all probability, called scaccarium because a chequered cloth (figured with squares like a chess-board) was anciently wont to be laid on the table in the court or place of that name." " From the Latin," continues Madox, " cometh the French eschequier or exchequier, and the English name from the French. Or if any one thinks more likely that -the French word was the ancienter, and the Latin one formed from it, I do not oppose him, - nay, incline to believe it was so." Another and less probable explanation is, that the original word was statarium, "from its stability, as it was the firm support of the crown or kingdom." But Madox points out that from the early times of the Conquest onwards it was always called scaccarium and never statarium.
At the present day, exchequer means two very different and independent institutions, the historical origin of which is one and the saute. It is a court of law - one of the three superior courts at Westminster. Jt is also the treasury. The connexion between the treasury and the court is still kept up in one or two points. The chancellor of the exchequer stilt takes his seat in the Exchequer•Court on certain formal occasions, and the Exchequer Court (or, as it is now called, the Exchequer Division) is still the appropriate tribunal for cases connected with the revenue.
The Exchequer makes its appearance among English institutions in close connexion with the King's Court (curia regis) - the germ from which so large a portion of the English constitution has sprung. In the language of later times it might be called a committee of that court specially charged with the management of the revenue. The King's Exchequer, says Theodore, " was anciently a member of his court, and was wont to be held in his palace. It was a sort of subaltern court, partly resembling iu its model that which was properly called the curia ref" for in it the king's barons and great men who used to be in his palace near his royal person ordinarily presided, but sometimes the king himself; in it the king's chief-justiciar, his chancellor, his treasurer, his constable, his marshal, and his chamberlain performed some part of their several offices." And just as the curia regis was not a pure court of law, so the Exchequer was not merely a financial council but a court of law. Its principal business, says Madox, related to the revenue, and although the justices on circuit had cognizance of revenue matters, such matters, as they arose, were certified or sent into the Exchequer " to which place the affairs of the royal revenue tended as to their centre." Madox divides the business of the Exchequer, during the period between the Conquest and the reign of King John, under the head of revenues, causes, null-litigious business, mad matters of public policy.
From the reign of Henry III. the Exchequer was recognized as a separate court, the others being the king's Bencl and the Common Pleas (a u.). Mr Stubbs thinks that a separate staff of judges was not assigned to each court until the end of the reign of Henry. The special business of the Exchequer was as before the decision of revenue cases, but from a very early time, and in spite of repeated prohibitions, the lawyers of the Exchequer competed for the ordinary litigious business - the common pleas - of the country. They finally succeeded by means of the well-known fiction which allowed one of the litigants to own that he was indebted to the king, and forbade his opponent to traverse the averment. The organization of the court seems to have been somewhat later in point of time than that of the Common Pleas and the King's Bench. The barons of the Exchequer were not at first recognized as judges. They are not mentioned in the statutes of Nisi Prins (13 Edward I. c. 30, and 14 Edward III. c. l 6). In the reign of Elizabeth the Exchequer was definitely recognized a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction with the Common Pleas and the King's Bench.
The Exchequer was further distinguished from the two other courts by possessing an equitable as well as a common law jurisdiction. " The Court of Equity," says Nackstone, "is held before the lord treasurer, the chancellor of the exchequer, the chief baron, and the three puisne ones," whereas the common law jurisdiction is exercised by the barons only of the exchequer, and not the treasurer or chancellor. This equity jurisdiction was abolished in 1S11, when two additional vice-chancellors were appointed in the Court of Chancery.
By the Judicature Act of 1S73 the Court of Exchequer was abolished as a separate court, and its jurisdiction was transferred to the new High Court of Justice. The Exchequer still survives, however, as one of the divisions of the High Court, and still retains under its new name its old exclusive jurisdiction.
The Court of Exchequer Chamber was, until the passing of the Act just referred to, the court of appeal from the three courts of common law. Appeals from any one of these were heard before judges of the other two. It was originally intended (by statute 31 Edward ILL c. 12) to determine causes by writs of error from the common law side of the Court of Exchequer, the judges being the lord chancellor, lord treasurer, and the justices of the King's Bench and Common Pleas. A statute of 27 Elizabeth (e. 8) made similar arrangements for writs of error from the King's Bench. The jurisdiction of the Exchequer Chamber is transferred by the Judicature Act to the new Court of Appeal.
The (2/voted/or of the exchequer is the second commissioner of the treasury, the first lord being the premier. Occasionally both offices are held by the same person. It is the duty of the chancellor to prepare and lay before the House of Commons the " budget " for the year, and therefore he must be a commoner. The chancellor takes his seat in the Court of Exchequer once a year - at the nomination of persons to serve as sheriffs. (E. n.) so that the Roman excise cannot have had a duration of much more than half a century. Its remission must have been deemed a great boon in the marts of Rome, since it was commemorated by the issue of small brass coins with legend Remissis Centesieuis, specimens of which are still to be found in collections.
The history of this branch of revenue in the United Kingdom dates from the period of the civil wars, when the republican Government, following the example of Holland, established, as a means of defraying the heavy expenditure of the time, various duties of excise, which the Royalists when restored to power found too convenient or necessary to be abandoned, notwithstanding their Roundhead origin and general unpopularity. On the contrary, they were destined to be steadily increased both in number and in amount. It is curious that the first commodities selected for excise were those to which this branch of taxation, after great extension, has again in the age of reform and free trade been in a manlier permanently reduced, viz., malt liquors, and such kindred beverages as cider, perry, and spruce beer. The other excise duties remaining are chiefly in the form of licences, such as to kill game and to use and carry guns, to sell gold and silver plate, to pursue the business of appraisers or auctioneers, hawkers or pedlars, pawnbrokers, or patent-medicine vendors, to mann facture tobacco or snuff, to deal in sweets or in foreign wines, to make vinegar, to roast malt, or to use a still in chemistry or otherwise. It may be presumed that the policy of the licence duties is not so much to collect revenue, though in the aggregate they yield a large sum, as to guard the main sources of excise, and to place certain classes of dealers, by registration and an annual payment to the exchequer, under a direct legal responsibility. The excise system of the United Kingdom as now primed and reformed, however, while still the most prolific of all the sources of revenue, is simple in process, and is contentedly borne as compared with what was the case in the last and the beginning of the present century. The wars with Bonaparte strained the Government resources to the uttermost, and excise duties were multiplied and increased in every practicable form. Bricks, candles, calico prints, glass, hides and skins, leather, paper, salt, soap, and other ennimnr1 es of home menu fnetnre n.nr1 ennslim;tion were.
placed, with their respective industries, under excise surveillance and fine. When the duties could no longer be increased in number, they were raised in rate. The duty on British spirits, which had begun at a few pence per gallon in 1660, rose step by step to 11e. 8-id. per gallon in 1820 ; and the duty on salt was augmented to three or fourfold its value.
The old unpopularity of excise, though now somewhat out of date, must have had real enough grounds. It breaks out in all our literature, from songs and pasquinades to grave political essays and legal commentaries. Blackstone, in quoting the declaration of parliament in 1640 that " excise is the most easy and indifferent levy that can be laid upon the people," adds on his own authority that " from its first original to the present time its very name has been odious to the people of England" (book i. cap. 8, tenth edition, 1786); while the definition of " excise gravely inserted by Dr Johnson in the Dictionary, at the imminent risk of subjecting the eminent author to a prosecution for libel - viz., "a hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid " - can hardly be ever forgotten. The levy of excise has more than the disagreeableness of other direct taxation, and though not more inquisitorial than income tax, establishes an espionage and control over premises and processes of manufacture which are much more offensive as well as sometimes injurious. The caustic feeling of last century points directly enough to much rough and arbitrary administration, which it was possible gradually to correct and mitigate.
But what may be deemed the permanent defect of excise is that it is apt to increase the cost of commodities to consumers far more than the amount of duty levied for the revenue. This has been found on the abolition of excise, whether on bricks, calicoes, leather, paper, or other articles of manufacture. The cheapening effect might not be very immediate or apparent., because the duty- when abolished might bear only a very fractional proportion to the natural value of the goods; but under the greater freedom of production have arisen more invention, more skilful and varied appliances, and consequently more economy to consumers, and more expansion of the several industries, than could have been attained under the fiscal restrictions. The inexpediency, even for revenue purposes, of finnyg and fettering a great number of the most useful and necessary home industries by this kind of impost would seem to be abundantly demonstrated by the fact that the excise revenue of the United Kingdom, while being reduced always within narrower compass, has not suffered eventually in its actual produce to the state. The revenue from excise has never been greater, or much greater, than it is at present. The gross receipts from excise in 1S:20 were £27,955,810.
In the year ended 31st March 1866, when the larger number of the duties had been abolished, the net revenue from excise was £18,332,868; and in the year ended same date 1877, when excise for some years had been almost wholly confined to British spirits and malt liquors, the net revenue was £27,681,521 The following are the general items of the excise revenue in the latter year : - So large a revenue from so few sources indicates high duties, and the excise on spirits in particular has been maintained during many years at a rate that would have astonished the people of last century, and yet without any of the evils incident to heavy fiscal exaction. There is a check, which has been often exemplified, to the increase of the rate of excise in the encouragement it gives to illicit manufacture, and the consequent defeat of its object, viz., increase of revenue. The high rates of 11s. 81d. per gallon in England, Gs. 2d. in Scotland, and 5s. 7d, in Ireland, to which the excise on home-made spirits was increased at the close of the great wars, gave rise to so much evasion that " more than one-half of the spirits actually consumed in Scotland and Ireland," as we learn from an official source, " were supplied by the Smuggler." The duties were reduced to 7s. per gallon in England, and to 2s. 4id. in both the other countries. " The result of these changes was a most surprising increase of legally made spirits. °In 1820 the quantity made in the United Kingdom, and retained for home consumption, was 9,600,000 gallons. In 1826 " - two years after the change of duties - " it was 18,200,000 " (First Report of Commissioners of Inland Revenue, 1857). At subsequent periods, when the duties were again moderately increased, it was found that there was a sharp limit to the process, and that the excise on spirits could not be advanced much beyond 3s. 4d. in Scotland and Ireland without a revival of the old evils and a decline of revenue; while in England more than 7s. encouraged adulteration, and much higher prices than were justified by the duty and other trade charges. Later experience shows that this check is elastic. Since 1860 the excise on home-made spirits has been 10s. per gallon uniformly in the three kingdoms, and yet in no previous period have there been fewer complaints of smuggling or illicit distillation. This result is ascribable to various causes. The increase of employment, higher wages for legitimate labour, the opening of all parts of the country by means of communication, the greater sway of the law, and the greater influence of habits of order, must have discouraged the dark though tempting business of smuggling quite as much or more than the enormously- high excise encouraged it. The excise service itself has also been much improved, and by simple mechanical provisions in the distilleries much less supervision of officers is requisite, with greater security against fraud than in former times. The exemption from duty of methylated spirit, used extensively in " French polishing" and many other arts, has likewise had a beneficial effect in stampine-° out illicit distillation. The spirit of wine, or pure alcohol of the druggists, however, is still almost necessarily subject to duty, though it were certainly desirable that in tinctures and other medicaments incapable of being abused as potable liquors, it should be free of tax. But permission to prepare tinctures in bond, in quantities of not less than nine gallons, has not as yet been taken advantage of to any extent. In the export of spirit of wine a rebate of duty is allowed.
The duty on malt, like that on spirits, has also for some years been uniform in the United Kingdom, at the rate of 2s. 74d. per bushel, with a further duty on brewers of 12s. 6d. for every 121 quarters mashed, or, what is held equivalent, every 50 barrels of 36 gallons brewed. The duty on each gallon of ale is thus barely one and seven-eighths of a penny - a very lenient excise compared with the 10s. per gallon on spirits. It might be supposed that when the duty on spirits in Scotland and Ireland was made as high as in England, a certain equality should have been established in the incidence of taxation on the liquors most generally used in the several countries. But the legislature has favoured the milder fermented liquors with the view of promoting temperance in all parts of the kingdom, irrespective of taste, habit, or climate. How far this good intention has been realized is a question aside from these explanatory remarks on excise. It has only to be observed that while the consumption of brewed liquors has been increasing in Scotland, the consumption of distilled spirits in England has been increasing in a still greater proportion. The following are the official returns of spirits and malt charged with duty in the three kingdoms in 1867 and 1876 : - The abolition of many of the old excise duties, and consequent simplification of the department, prepared the way for an administrative reform, by which the three revenue branches of excise, stamps, and taxes were placed under the superintendence of one board of commissioners, and included in the general description of inland revenue. This was accomplished in 1818, and the board of excise left its old head quarters in Gresham House and was merged in the new body in Somerset House, by which the colle lion and management of the whole inland revenue has since been directed. The provisions for the consolidation and guidance of the board of inland revenue are embodied in the Act 12 Viet. cap. 1. The numerous statutes of excise, well annotated, have been collected and published under the authority of the commissioners of inland revenue, in one volume (1873). (n. so.)