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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: country court proceedings: appearing in court: right of audience

Right of audience

Prior to the changes brought about by Section 25(1A) of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005, officers of HMRC had no formal right to represent the Commissioners in the county court. They had a right to appear only where they were the named claimant.

The changes, which took effect from 21 July 2008, now mean that an officer of Revenue and Customs can represent the Commissioners in civil proceedings under that section of the Act.

Whenever you appear in court (this includes hearings in actions begun before 21 July 2008), if you are challenged on your right to address court in any action you should

  • quote Section 25(1A) of CRCA 2005 as the relevant authority.

Section 25(1A) is reproduced below:

“An officer of Revenue and Customs or a person authorised by the Commissioners may conduct county court proceedings for the recovery of an amount payable to the Commissioners under or by virtue of an enactment or under a contract settlement.”

This authority includes contract settlements, inheritance tax and national minimum wage penalties which were not previously covered under HMRC’s automatic right of audience in the county court.

The authority to represent the Commissioners in county court proceedings also extends to Northern Ireland though currently the Department does not take such proceedings there.

County court judges and district judges are quite used to officers of Revenue and Customs appearing before them and are unlikely to challenge your right to address them. However a solicitor representing a defendant may do so; in which case be ready to produce your identity card as proof of identity.

Conduct of the hearing

All county courts operate within the terms of the Civil Procedure Rules but the requirements or preferences of each judge, district judge or court manager may vary slightly from person to person and from court to court. You should adapt your own style to meet those requirements. Even if a particular practice has been acceptable in the court for some time previously, remember that it may not suit any new or relief official.

No judge or district judge will expect you to conduct a case in the same way as a solicitor or barrister. However, they will expect you to be better prepared and to have more background knowledge of court procedures than a member of the public attempting to recover a debt on a ‘do-it-yourself’ basis.

Make sure you prepare each case thoroughly before going to court. This will enable you to react sensibly and quickly to points raised at short notice. In particular, you should possess sufficient knowledge of the case to be able to challenge any issues raised by the other party that might be in conflict with the facts.

You should also remain alert throughout the hearing for the mention of any points that might help to achieve the best possible result, if you emphasise them to the court.

It is essential that you

  • avoid complacency
  • are fully familiar with each case you take
  • can quote, and produce copies of, the relevant statutory authorities and other evidence required to support your case.

You will find it helpful to build up a rapport with the court staff.