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Monday 22 September 2003

Debut Debacle

Today, almost completely unexpectedly, I had to represent a client in a full tribunal (think a small court to decide tax things).

We arrived this morning to request a stand-over, a delay of a couple of months, to allow further negotiations with Customs & Excise (the tax authorities). And I'd been told we should receive it. I had advised the client he would not be needed and hoped to reach agreement with Customs before the start of the hearing. Customs' were absolutely not playing game.

The Chairman (the judge) refused the stand-over request and gave me a bit of a slap on the wrist for not bringing my Client along. He even threatened to award costs to Customs.

So, with no preparation and with the Chairman already set against me I was into my first full tribunal and no way of escaping.

We examined Customs' evidence (I had none to produce as my client wasn't there) and I even cross examined Customs' main witness. And I think I did a reasonable job. I seemed to turn the Chairman's opinion from an entirely negative view of my case to a considered and possibly even favourable one. I picked a few holes in Customs' evidence a tripped their witness up a few times. I managed to get Customs' to admit that the calculation they had used was flawed and scored some serious brownie points in the eyes of the Chairman. A couple of times he even disagreed with the witness when she tried to claim the point I was making wasn't valid.

At one point I thought the Chairman was going to direct that the assessment be reduced in line with my calculations provided to Customs last month (which would have been a serious win). In the end, he opted for sending Customs' away to reconsider their assessment in light of the points I had made.

I still don't think we can win the case; most of my points have little or no hard evidence to back them up. But at least today, I managed to snatch survival from the jaws of complete defeat and I feel reasonably pleased with the results of my first ever appearance.

September 22, 2003 9:12 PM |

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