Embargo: 2.00pm, Thursday, 24 July, 2003
LAW REFORM COMMISSION ISSUES CONSULTATION PAPER ON A FISCAL PROSECUTOR AND A REVENUE COURT
Thursday, 24 July, 2003: The Law Reform Conunission launches its Consultation Paper on a Fiscal (Revenue) Prosecutor and Revenue Court today.
The Consultation Paper has been prepared pursuant to a reference from the Attorney General arising from a recommendation, contained in the Final Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Sub-Committee on Certain Revenue Matters (DIRT Final Report). The Consultation Paper examines the arguments for and against the introduction of a Fiscal Prosecutor and a Revenue Court and also the allied issue of improvements to, rather than replacement of, existing structures.
The Conunission's main reconunendations are:
- The recent changes in arrangements for the prosecution of revenue offences should be given a trial period to prove their efficacy
- A specialised civil revenue court should not be established as the current systems offer expertise, accessibility and efficiency
- Taxpayers should be able to appeal penalties to the Appeal Commissioners and in the Circuit Court
The Commission does not recommend the establishment of a specialised civil revenue court (even on the basis of joint criminal and civil jurisdiction) in place of either the Appeal Commissioners or the Circuit Court, as the current avenues of appeal offer the advantages of specialisation at the level of the Appeal Commissioners, coupled with a generalist approach in the Circuit Court. In addition, there is informality in both venues which ensures that the appeal process remains an accessible forum for taxpayers challenging tax assessments.
Further the Commission does not for the present recommend the establishment of a specialised criminal revenue court, either at District or Circuit Court level.
Due to the increasing complexity of tax law, the Commission recommends that the assignment of judges should be within the discretion of the President of the Circuit Court and that, where possible, the President of the Circuit Court should assign judges with knowledge of tax law to complicated tax appeals by arrangement with the judges of each circuit.
The option of jury trial in the case of trials on indictment for revenue offences should be retained in the Commission's view. The Consultation Paper discusses the benefits of jury trials (Chapter 7) which include the classic argument that the administration of justice is best served by an accused being judged by fellow citizens applying standards of fairness and common sense.
Public Prosecution System:
The Commission does not recommend the establishment of a separate office of Director of Fiscal Prosecutions (DFP) as this would result in fragmentation of the public prosecution system away from the beneficial overall supervisory role of the Director of Public Prosecutions. These disadvantages would not necessarily be offset by an increase in the number of prosecutions. The recent improvements in the arrangements for the prosecution of revenue offences should be given a trial period and there should be a review in a few years time as to their efficacy.
In relation to civil penalties, the Commission recommends that the Revenue Commissioners be responsible for publishing the list of offenders in full, with a breakdown of the tax, penalties and interest involved, in at least two nationally circulated newspapers to ensure that all tax evaders are named in newspapers and not merely a few high profile offenders as selected by the media.
In accordance with general practice, the Commission recommends the establishment of a new selection and appointment process for future Appeal Commissioners. An Appeal Commissioner should be appointed for a seven year fixed term which can be renewed. The proposed process would consist of a group of experts in accountancy, law and taxation short-listing possible candidates. The Minister for Finance would then choose from amongst this shortlist. The same expert group would also recommend as to whether or not the Minister for Finance should reappoint an Appeal Commissioner.
The Commission recommends that decisions of the Appeal Commissioners should be recorded and made available within three months of determination. Such decisions should succinctly set out the facts and the reasons upon which they are based. The Commission also recommends that the name of the Office of the Appeal Commissioners be changed to the Tax Appeals Board to indicate independence from the Revenue Commissioners.
The Commission recommends that the Appeal Commissioners' jurisdiction be extended to cover appeals against penalty deteminations made by the Revenue Commissioners. The Commission also recommends that a further right of appeal should lie to the Circuit Court. To balance the right of the taxpayers to such appeals, the Commission considers it appropriate that the Revenue Commissioners also have a general right of appeal to the courts.
The Commission usually publishes in two stages: first, the Consultation Paper and then the Report. The Consultation Paper is intended to form the basis for discussion and accordingly the recommendations, conclusions and suggestions contained herein are provisional. The Commission will make its final recommendations on this topic following further consideration of the issues and consultation, including a seminar which it is hoped will be attended by a number of interested and expert people (details of the venue and date of which will be announced later). Submissions on the provisional recommendations included in this Consultation Paper are also welcome. Secondly, the Report provides an opportunity, which is especially welcome with the present subject not only for further thoughts on areas covered in the Paper, but also to treat topics not yet covered. In order that the Commission's final report may be made available as soon as possible, those who wish to make their submissions are requested to do so in writing to the Commission by 31 October 2003.
For further information / interview with Commissioner Marian Shanley, contact: Ruth Burnside 087 9967496 / Winifred McCourt 087 2446004 Gibney Communications, 01 661 0402