The Curious Case of Mr Trull

On 9 February 2016, Professor Sir John Baker introduced us to Mr Trull, in his talk for the History of Tax Group, and in doing so gave us a fascinating glimpse of medieval law, Cornish nationalism and the interaction between a charter of 1508 and UK legislation. This was a case that Professor Baker had been involved with, as in 1988 he was asked by government solicitors to translate part of the 1508 document from Latin.

Mr Trull, was an avid Cornishman who believed that Cornwall should be a separate sovereign state. He set up and sold shares in a phantom tin mine company the Royal Cornish Consols United Tin Mines Cost Book Company at one pound each, as a device to avoid the community charge (or poll tax), introduced in 1989. Mr Trull asserted that all tin-miners and, crucially, all shareholders in tin-mines, were exempt from the tax because the law imposing the charge had not been approved by the Stannary[1] Parliament, as seemed to be required by Henry VII’s Charter of Pardon of 1508. Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to the apparent tax exemption that was available for subscribers, take up was high, with Mr Trull being allegedly in receipt of between £1million and £2million. However, the company eventually went into receivership by order of the court.

The Stannary Parliament last met in 1753, and Mr Trull wanted to revive it by calling together “twenty-four good and lawful men of the four stannaries”, with the intention that it should overrule the community charge. In a subsequent Department of Trade and Industry investigation into the company and Mr Trull’s involvement, he represented himself in court, and ultimately his claim that the Stannary parliament could veto legislation from Westminster was unsuccessful. The case raised a number of interesting issues, including whether letters patent such as the 1508 patent could take priority over national law. Whilst there is medieval case law that demonstrates that it is possible to have a charter of exemption from future taxes, which is recognised in modern revenue legislation, this was not an argument advanced in the case in question.

Professor Baker’s talk was erudite, informative and amusing, revealing as it did the fascinating issues arising from lesser known aspects of English law.

Caroline Turnbull-Hall

February 2016

[1] The Cornish stannaries are four separate tin-bearing areas of Cornwall