| IRC v. Duke of Westminster  All ER 259 (H.L.)
The Duke executed deeds with persons then in his employ (including his gardener) in which he covenanted to pay to them certain weekly sums for a period of seven years or the joint lives of the parties. The deeds recited that the payments were made in recognition of past services faithfully rendered to the Duke and that the Duke desired to make provision for the person notwithstanding that he may continue in the Duke's service (in which event he will be entitled to remuneration in respect of such future service) or may cease to work for the Duke.
Letters of explanation (which were acknowledged by the employees) were sent to each employee informing him that he could claim full remuneration for future work but that it was expected in practice that he would be content with the provision made by the deed plus such sum (if any) as might be necessary to bring the total payments up to the level of the salary or wages he had lately been receiving.
The recipients at the time the deeds were executed were receiving fixed wages or salaries and after execution of the deeds continued in the Duke's employment and continued to receive such sums as, with the sum payable by the deed, made up the amount of the wages or salary payable before the deed and no more.
If the amounts paid under the deed in respect of periods during which the persons were in the Duke's employ were remuneration for services, they were not deductible in computing the Duke's liability for surtax. If, on the other hand, the amounts were annual payments, they were deductible. Thus, the issue was whether the payments under the deeds were remuneration for services or not.
It was incontrovertible that the deeds were brought into existence so as to permit the Duke to reduce his surtax liability.
The payments were not remuneration for services. Three of the five Lords concluded that the letter was not a contract, only an expression of hope or anticipation and four of the five Lords concluded that, even if it was a contract, it was nothing more than a contract that the person's remuneration for future services will not be full remuneration but only the additional sum referred to in the letter. The fifth Lord, in dissent, concluded that the deed and letter should be viewed together as a simply maintaining the existing contract of service rather than radically altering it.
All of the Lords rejected the proposition that in revenue cases there is a doctrine that the court may ignore the legal position and regard the substance of the matter. The substance is that which results from the legal rights and obligations of the parties ascertained upon ordinary legal principles.