Why can’t we know what has delayed the Rangers Tax Tribunal?
By a quirk of fate I’m dealing with two specific press offices at the moment. One is the advisors to His Excellency President Assad of Syria, the other is the Tribunal Service attached to the judiciary in the UK.
Over the past fortnight I’ve had about the same level of service and information from both.
Which is odd since one is a notorious police state mired in kleptocratic corruption, civil war and generally violent systematic meltdown and the other appears to be British civil servants facing no such difficulties.
Yet try as I might it is next to impossible to puncture the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the First Tier Tax Tribunal where the fate of Rangers is to be determined.
Let’s start with some really simple information which, astonishingly, the judiciary service press office did manage to supply – they told me the names of those running the Big Tax Case hearing.
They are Mr Kenneth Mure QC (judge), Mr Scott Rae and Dr Heidi Poon.
So at that point I thought I’d try another easy question like when exactly did the Tribunal begin?
Mysteriously, we are not allowed to know this. When I asked why, I was informed that:
“The hearing was in private and it is possible that the identities of certain witnesses could be anonymised in the decision notice. So no details of names of witnesses or dates of proceedings can be released at present. The reason dates are confidential is that disclosure could enable identification of who attended.”
So apparently telling us the start and finish date could lead to witnesses being identified. I fail to understand any logic to this and the press office has failed thus far to explain any reason.
Nor can they explain any reason – reasonable or not – why witnesses need to be anonymous in the first place?
It is not a trial it is an appeal in effect. But it is a judicial process and justice is about being seen to be done. The process of appeal courts, crown courts, civil courts, magistrates’ courts, sheriff courts, public inquiries – the judicial process is open. So why are Tax Tribunals so avowedly secret?
Again, no explanation to date.
What many people want to know is what has delayed the Tribunal? We know there’s been a problem because both Tribunals press office and HMRC told Channel 4 News that the decision was expected “shortly after Easter”.
Here we are, three months on or so, not a hint of explanation at this (very expensive) delay. I’m sure there’s a perfectly straightforward explanation. So why can’t we know it?
Yet again, week in, week out, the Tribunals press office simply ducks the question. In the end they seemed to get a wee bit testy about anyone asking simple questions:
“I’m afraid the tribunal have declined to give any further information in this case until judgment is given,” wrote a press officer last week.
I can tell you they have received no complaints about the Big Tax Case from the HMRC about which there were various dark rumours in recent months – but as to when any decision will happen – who knows?
So I can only apologise for this rather Kafka-esque tale. I’ve tried and as I have left our shores for a while it seemed only fair to answer people who’ve asked what is going on?
Of course I haven’t answered, just passed on your questions. I don’t doubt that justice is being done as to whether Rangers FC’s tax arrangements were in order.
But I have very serious doubts that justice is being seen to be done and the taxpayers are owed an explanation.
Follow Alex Thomson on Twitter: @alextomo