Tax needn’t be taxing …

Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash

I spend quite a lot of time talking to students about the work of what I label the “mainstream Scottish courts” i.e. the Justice of the Peace Courts, Sheriff Courts (trial & appellate functions), the High Court of Justiciary, the Court of Session and the UK Supreme Court.

Quite right too because these courts are very important and account for thousands and thousands of cases (both civil and criminal) every year.

Now comes the ‘but’ …

… I would, however, be doing my students a disservice if I left them with the false impression that these courts or judicial bodies dealt with every type of legal dispute. Frankly speaking, there are lot of legal issues which these courts will not deal with (especially those lower down the Scottish judicial hierarchy). They are simply not equipped to deal with a wide range of legal disputes which arise, for example, in employment, data protection, heraldry, intellectual property, immigration, mental health, social security and taxation.

This is where courts or tribunals of special jurisdiction come in. These bodies are equipped to deal with extremely technical or specialist areas of law such as taxation or social security. Citizens who might feel aggrieved about decisions made by organs of the State – Jobcentreplus or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – can raise legal challenges before specialist tribunals.

In a previous blog (“Hello, I’m Lorraine and I’m definitely self-employed” published on 22 March 2019), I discussed the situation where the First Tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber) had to decide on the employment status of the well known British TV presenter, Lorraine Kelly.

The only time members of the public typically get to hear about the work of specialist tribunals is when it involves a celebrity or a football team (as with the long running saga concerning the affairs of Rangers Football Club).

Most of the time, these tribunals are working quietly in the background, largely unseen and unremarked upon, but they are making decisions which can affect large numbers of people.

I was reminded of this fact today, when it was reported that someone had successfully challenged a decision of Revenue Scotland (which was set up to administer specifically devolved taxes in Scotland) in relation to Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT). Several years ago, LBTT replaced stamp duty on conveyancing transactions in Scotland . Conveyancing, for those of you who don’t know, involves the buying, selling and leasing of heritable property (land and buildings). Surprise, surprise the State charges a tax on these types of transactions – unless the value of the property falls below a certain threshold or you happen to benefit from an exemption.

Anyway, to return to the case in point, Revenue Scotland has just lost its appeal from the First Tier Tribunal before the Upper Tier Tribunal and its attempt to impose a daily financial penalty on two individuals who submitted their tax return 21 months late has been quashed.

It may seem an obscure matter, but many people buying a house will be affected by LBTT and, potentially, the consequences of late submission of the return which must be submitted to Revenue Scotland – whether any tax is payable or not. Here we have a tribunal clarifying the law without much fanfare.

A link to the case before the Upper Tier Tribunal for Scotland can be found below:


The purpose of statutory Tribunals is to keep complex matters such as taxation outwith the mainstream court structure. That said, from time to time, the courts superior courts will inevitably become involved in issues if an appeal goes beyond the Upper Tier Tribunal.

A good example of this happened last week when the UK Supreme Court had the final say in a VAT (Value added tax) case which originated in Scotland.

A link to the story as reported on the BBC website can be found below:

Aberdeenshire farmer wins case to reclaim £1m in VAT

The HMRC had taken Frank Smart to the UK Supreme Court in the legal battle involving subsidies.
A link to the press release about the case which was issued by the UK Supreme Court can be also be found below:
Readers, should they wish, can read the full judgement by going to the Supreme Court’s website:

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 July and 1 August 2019

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A legal blog by the author of Introductory Scots Law: Theory & Practice (3rd Edition: 2017; Hodder Gibson) Sean J. Crossan BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), MSc, TQFE I have been teaching law in Higher and Further Education for nearly 25 years. I also worked as an employment law consultant in a Glasgow law firm for over a decade. I am also a trade union representative and continue to make full use of my legal background. I am a graduate and postgraduate of the Universities of Dundee, London and Strathclyde. Please note that this Blog provides a general commentary about issues in Scots Law. It is not intended as a substitute for in-depth legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem, you should always consult a suitably qualified Scottish solicitor who will be able to provide you with the support that you require.

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