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Madras Bar Association vs. UOI (Supreme Court Constitution Bench)
September, 27th 2014

The NTT Act “crosses the boundary” & is unconstitutional. CAs/CSs are specialists on accounts & facts and are not capable of arguing/ deciding ‘Substantial Questions Of Law’

The Full Bench of the Supreme Court had to consider whether the National Tax Tribunals Act, 2005, which sought to take away the jurisdiction of the High Courts in tax matters was constitutional. The Full Bench has struck down the entire Act as being unconstitutional on the ground that though “tribunalization” has been allowed subject to safeguards, the NTT Act “crosses the boundary” and “encroaches the exclusive domain” of the High Courts. In the course of the judgement, the Supreme Court had to consider whether Chartered Accountants could be appointed Members of the NTT and whether s. 13(1) of the Act which permitted Chartered Accountants to represent a party to an appeal before the NTT was valid in law. It also had to consider the application by the Company Secretaries that they are equal in all respects to the CAs and should also be permitted to appear and plead before the NTT. HELD by the Full Bench:

A perusal of the reported judgements shows that while deciding tax related disputes, provisions of different laws on diverse subjects had to be taken into consideration. The Members of the NTT would most definitely be confronted with the legal issues emerging out of Family Law, Hindu Law, Mohammedan Law, Company Law, Law of Partnership, Law related to Territoriality, Law related to Trusts and Societies, Contract Law, Law relating to Transfer of Property, Law relating to Intellectual Property, Interpretation of Statutes, and other Miscellaneous Provisions of Law, from time to time. The NTT besides the aforesaid statutes, will not only have to interpret the provisions of the three statutes, out of which appeals will be heard by it, but will also have to examine a challenge to the vires of statutory amendments made in the said provisions, from time to time. They will also have to determine in some cases, whether the provisions relied upon had a prospective or retrospective applicability. Keeping in mind the fact, that in terms of s. 15 of the NTT Act, the NTT would hear appeals from the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and the CESTAT only on “substantial questions of law”, it is difficult for us to appreciate the propriety of representation, on behalf of a party to an appeal, through either Chartered Accountants or Company Secretaries, before the NTT. The determination at the hands of the NTT is shorn of factual disputes. It has to decide only “substantial questions of law”. In our understanding, Chartered Accountants and Company Secretaries would at best be specialists in understanding and explaining issues pertaining to accounts. These issues would, fall purely within the realm of facts. We find it difficult to accept the prayer made by the Company Secretaries to allow them, to represent a party to an appeal before the NTT. Even insofar as the Chartered Accountants are concerned, we are constrained to hold that allowing them to appear on behalf of a party before the NTT, would be unacceptable in law. We accordingly reject the claim of Company Secretaries, to represent a party before the NTT. We simultaneously hold s. 13(1), insofar as it allows Chartered Accountants to represent a party to an appeal before the NTT, as unconstitutional and unsustainable in law.

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