Ronald Angliss v Customs and Excise Commissioners  EWHC 1311 (Ch)
Ch.D (Laddie J) 2/7/2002
The restrictions on the VAT Tribunal that prevented from hearing reviews outside the statutory limitation period was not a disproportionate intereference with the appellant’s Article 6 rights
Mr Angliss had written a letter seeking a review of the decision not to restore his motor vehicle seized when he was found to be in contravention of the C&E regulations. This letter had been sent outside the 45 day appeal limitation period and the VAT Tribunal that the limitation period must be construed in a way compatible with the appellant's right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the Convention (see the decision by Stephen Olivier QC in the VADT of November 2 2001). The Tribunal had concluded that the letter, although not a formal notice requesting a review, showed that Mr Angliss had thought that he had unequivocally communicated to the Commissioners that he disputed the decision not to restore the goods and that on a pragmatic construction of the legislation the realistic interpretation of his actions was that he had made a proper request for a review. Since the Commissioners had failed to deal with that request within 45 days, the Tribunal decided that it had jurisdiction to hear his appeal.
Appeal allowed. There was no infringement of Article 6. Not every loss of a right to a hearing or trial constituted an infringement of human rights and where, as here, a litigant failed to comply with procedural requirements, which themselves were not inherently unfair, it was his own fault if lost the opportunity of a hearing. The procedure laid down in the legislation and the 45-day time limit was not unfair or unduly restrictive, and the Tribunal was not justified in construing it in the way it did. Since Mr Angliss had failed to request a review within the prescribed period and the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear his appeal. The letter merely asked for a review of the decision to seize the goods, not the decision not to restore them, which had yet to be made at that time.
COMMENT (July 2002)
This case gives clear and well-reasoned guidance on whether there is anything in the procedure set out in the legislation relating to seizure or as applied by the Commissioners that can reasonably be said to deprive an individual of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 European Convention on Human Rights.
In particular, Laddie J finds as a matter of principle that the fact a litigant has lost the right to trial or appeal does not mean that his Article 6 rights have been breached if the right has been lost because a litigant fails to comply with procedural requirements which are, in themselves, fair and reasonable. As he stated at para.28: "Were it otherwise, any litigant could breach procedural rules with impunity knowing that the courts could not impose the ultimate sanction on him".
This statement of principle should come as a relief to all individuals involved in litigation on a daily basis.
Jennifer Johnston, 1 Crown Office Row