On 10th June 2021, the Minister of Finance, issued the Tax Appeal Tribunal (Procedure) Rules, 2021 (“2021 TAT Rules”) and revoked the Tax Appeal Tribunal (Procedure) Rules, 2010. In our view, the 2021 Rules is a mixed bag as it introduces laudable innovations such as virtual hearings, electronic service of processes, and the joinder of actions which are aimed at making proceedings faster. On the other hand, it also introduced other provisions which could serve as a clog in the tax dispute resolution process.
Order III rule 5 provides that “any notice or process capable of being filed at the Tribunal may be filed by electronic means as may be directed by the Tribunal”. This enables litigants to avoid delays which are inherent in the manual filing process and, also to avoid the cost of travelling to the registry of the Tribunal where the filing is to be done. However, the caveat that electronic filing should be made “as may be directed by the Tribunal” indicates that litigants cannot adopt the e-filing procedure unless the Tribunal gives a direction to that effect.
It should be noted that the introduction of electronic filing does not eliminate manual filings hence Order IV rule 2 provides that a person may file an appeal in the secretariat of any zone of the TAT, provided that the notice of appeal is headed in the name of the appropriate zone where it should be heard.
Electronic service of processes
Order VII rule 5 provides that the Tribunal may order the service of documents or processes by email or other electronic means. Again, as with e-filing, electronic service is not a matter of course; it can only be used if ordered by the Tribunal. This means that litigants must be careful to request permission to serve processes electronically, otherwise such service may be invalid.
Order XVII rule 9 and Order XI rule 4 empower the Tribunal to conduct trials remotely, and to take applications and deliver rulings remotely, using virtual platforms provided fair hearing is safeguarded.
Power to transfer appeal when filed in wrong zone
Order IV rule 3 provides that all appeals must be filed in the zone where the dispute emanated. Where an appeal is filed in a wrong zone, it shall be transferred by the Chairman of that Tribunal panel to the appropriate zone.
Power to make orders for joinder
Order V provides that persons entitled to a relief or against whom a relief is alleged to exist as a result of the same transaction may be joined in a single appeal as appellants or respondents.
Order V rule 4 further provides that if the Tribunal believes that all persons who may have an interest in the subject matter of the appeal or are likely to be affected by the outcome of the appeal have not been made parties to the appeal, the Tribunal may order the joinder of such persons.
This provision appears to vest the Tribunal with the power to make unilateral orders of joinder whenever it deems it necessary.