Tribunal releases tax appeal material
In an unusual decision, the Upper Tier Tribunal ruled that certain material pertaining to a tax appeal should be released to a journalist.
A company, Situation Publishing Ltd, publisher of www.theregister.co.uk applied for sight of the appellant taxpayer’s notice of appeal, the associated grounds of appeal, and HMRC’s response. In a tax appeal of any substance these are the basic documents which lay out the parties’ arguments.
The appellant company (Aria Technology Ltd) had lost its FTT appeal, denying them around £750,000 of input tax. The company knew or should have known that the goods (CPUs) were connected to VAT fraud. The company appealed to the Upper Tier.
Gareth Corfield, a journalist working for Situation, applied for access to certain documents because the case was of wider interest to its readership, said to be 6 million viewers.
Although Aria opposed the application, HMRC did not, and were simply an interested party in the application.
The Upper Tier considered a Court of Appeal case: R (Guardian News and Media Ltd) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court  EWCA Civ 420 which commented:
Broadly speaking, the requirements of open justice apply to all tribunals exercising the judicial power of the state.
The ‘open justice’ principle led the Upper Tier to grant the application. “There is nothing that prohibits the Upper Tier from allowing a person who is a not a part to the proceedings to have access to documents that have been filed and in the Upper Tier record.” The Tribunal went further; “I have concluded that the Upper Tier has an inherent power to grant the third party access to any documents relating to proceedings that are held in the Upper Tier records and has a duty under common law to do so. (para 20)”
Aria commented that public reporting would not be accurate, and would damage its reputation, The Tribunal was not impressed with this unsupported argument.
I think this decision may be appealed further by the taxpayer. In the meantime, this is essential reading for journalists: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5accaf5fe5274a76be66bf8d/Aria_Technology_Ltd_v_HMRC.pdf
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Hi, I am a VAT Consultant, part of the team at vatadvice.org We are based in Cambridgeshire. We work largely with charities but also advise a range of commercial organisations.
I have over 30 years experience in VAT, and am currently also a part-time member of the Tax Tribunals.