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HMRC internal manual

Compliance Handbook

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HM Revenue & Customs
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Human Rights Act and Penalties: why you must avoid delay

One of the rights given by Article 6 of the ECHR is that the person is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time. For tax matters, this is not restricted to proceedings before an appeal tribunal. It also relates to the whole way in which we conduct and manage a compliance check.

You should always try to avoid unreasonable delay, including delay by the person, their agent or anyone else involved with the compliance check. You may need to use your formal powers (for example, use the information powers in FA08/SCH36, or issue an assessment or amendment) to prompt action by the person.

If the tribunal appears to be responsible for unreasonable delay you must be prepared to prompt them to deal with matters more quickly. You should remind the Tribunals Service of its commitment to keep delays to a minimum.

Normally there is no connection between delays in working a compliance check and penalties. However, in very exceptional circumstances unreasonable delay may mean that the person’s right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time is so badly compromised that we may have to think about abandoning a penalty. The leading case on delay and its affect on penalties is King v UK (ECtHR) 13881/2004. CH301300 provides more detail about the case.

If a person appeals against a penalty assessment on the grounds that they have been denied a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time, you should

  • explain that the decision in King v UK supports the view that there is no direct link between liability to a penalty and delay, and
  • invite the person to withdraw their appeal.

If the person is unwilling to withdraw, you should make a report to Central Policy, Tax Administration Advice.