Supreme Court questioned Chartered Accountant's Role in Tribunal

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reacted sharply to the Centre's stand that the purpose behind creation of National Tax Tribunal (NTT) was to associate domain experts in deciding taxation disputes as it was often felt that judges lacked expertise in specialized fields. 

A five-judge constitution bench comprising Chief Justice R M Lodha and Justices J S Khehar, J Chelameswar, A K Sikri and R F Nariman wondered why the government rushed to the judges whenever they faced a problem. 

"Judges may not be experts. But whenever there is a problem, they come to the judges by way of courts or commissions," the bench said before reserving its order on a petition filed by Madras Bar Association challenging the National Tax Tribunal Act. 

The petitioner had alleged that these tribunals could not have been empowered to decide questions of law, which exclusively fell within the courts' domain. It said the government, by constituting NTTs and providing appeal against their orders directly to the Supreme Court, had denuded the jurisdiction of high courts. 

The inclusion of chartered accountants and company secretaries on NTTs and allowing them to decide questions of law did not go down well with the apex court. "How can a CA or CS help determine the question of law involved in a taxation dispute," the bench asked.

 Appearing for an association of chartered accountants and company secretaries, senior advocate K V Vishwanathan said the CA and CS courses involved study of taxation laws. 

The bench said, "These days, Class VIII and IX students also study about Constitution. That does not mean they have knowledge of law. The taxation experts may be able to help a judicial member understand the complexities involved in a dispute but how will they determine a question of law?" 

In a lighter vein it said, "Many clerks and stenographers after long association with lawyers know the provisions of law quite well. Can they be said to have knowledge enough to decide questions of law. A CA or a CS would be studying taxation law from the angle of tax purposes only and not for understanding the questions of law that would arise in a dispute." 

Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Arvind Datar said NTT experimentation was dangerous for the judiciary as slowly, the government would take away expert subjects - disputes relating to company law, trademark and intellectual property - from the high court's jurisdiction by creating separate tribunals in the name of infusing experts into the dispute redressal mechanism. 

NTT, instead of supplementing the judiciary, was supplanting the court's jurisdiction, Datar said. 

The bench asked solicitor general Ranjit Kumar whether NTTs enjoyed any autonomy at all. "The NTT chairman does not even have power to set up benches. This power is vested with the central government. What is the autonomy we are talking about," it asked.

source: Times of India 


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