The recent Supreme Court judgment of AAWM Services Ltd (In Liquidation) v. Assessment Review Committee & D.G. Mauritius Revenue Authority delivered on the 23 June 2023 once again highlighted the importance for tax representatives to strictly comply with statutory limitation periods when representing clients whether before the MRA, the ARC or on appeals before the Supreme Court. Irrespective of the merits of the case of the tax payer, failure to comply with the limitation periods can have undesired, not to say grave, consequences for the tax payer.
AAWM Services Ltd (In Liquidation) had lodged representations against the Mauritius Revenue Authority before the Assessment Review Committee. The ARC ruling dated 14 July 2022 went against AAWM. Consequently, the MRA claimed the updated sum of Rs 7,081,167 from AAWM which in turn sought to appeal against the ruling of the MRA.
Section 21 of the Mauritius Revenue Authority Act provides as follows –
(1)(a) Any party who is dissatisfied with the decision of the [Assessment Review] Committee under section 20(7), as being erroneous in law, may lodge in the Registry of the Supreme Court an appeal against that decision.
(b) Any party wishing to appeal to the Supreme Court under paragraph (a) shall, within 21 days of the date of the decision of the Committee –
(i) lodge with, or send by registered post to, the Clerk to the Committee a written application requiring the Committee to state and sign a case for the opinion of the Supreme Court on the grounds specified in the case; and
(ii) at the same time, or earlier, forward a copy of his application by registered post to the other party.
Rule 3 of the Assessment Review Committee (Appeal) Rules 2007 on its part provides as follows –
Any party wishing to appeal to the Supreme Court under section 21 of the Act shall, within 21 days of the date of a decision by the [Assessment Review] Committee–
(a) lodge with, or send by registered post to, the Clerk a written application requiring the Committee to state and sign a case for the opinion of the Supreme Court on the grounds stated therein ; …..
No written application was lodged with, or sent by registered post to, the Clerk of the ARC within 21 days of the 14 July 2022 (i.e. by 3 August 2022) for the ARC to state and sign a case for the opinion of the Supreme Court. The motion paper of AAWM was in fact dated 4 August 2022 and was lodged on 5 August 2022. AAWM hence applied to the Supreme Court to be granted an extension of time to file the written application.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court observed that a review of Mauritian case law demonstrates that the stringent rule of compliance with statutory time limit requirements for appeals has been the guiding principle adopted by our Courts and it is only in clear and exceptional cases that the Court will exercise its discretion to depart from this established principle. The Supreme Court reiterated the golden rule of compliance with statutory time limits and stated that non-compliance is fatal to the hearing. Unless such non-compliance was due to no fault of the Appellant or that of his legal advisers, or circumstances beyond the control of the Appellant.
Based on (i) the circumstances surrounding the case, (ii) the reasons put forward by the AAWM in support of its application for extension of the 21 days statutory period and (iii) the objections of both the ARC and the MRA, the Supreme Court refused to exercise its discretion to allow an extension of time to the AAWM.
The Supreme Court upheld the objections raised by the ARC and the MRA and set aside the application of AAWM for extension of time. The Supreme Court went even further to point out that the tax due was payable in accordance with the decision of the ARC and this notwithstanding any appeal being made, or sought to be made as in the present case.