The Court of Appeal has found Revenue acted unlawfully in failing to provide a used car importer with details of how the open market selling price for used vehicles was determined for the purpose of calculating Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT).
Mr Justice Brian Murray said that failure meant Used Car Importers of Ireland (UCII) could not find out whether the Revenue’s system of valuing imported vehicles would, as a general rule, be very close to their actual value, thereby affecting the VRT calculation.
However, the judge said, while UCII was entitled to a declaration that this failure was unlawful, it was not entitled to succeed in relation to its other claims including for return of taxes paid, damages and loss which UCII had put at €130 million.
He was giving judgment on behalf of the three-judge Court of Appeal on Friday on an appeal by UCII against a 2013 High Court decision rejecting UCII’s claim against the Minister for Finance, Revenue and the State.
It was the latest decision in a 25-year legal battle by UCII Ltd, Centre Park Road, Cork, which claimed VRT discriminated in favour of the domestic car trade and against importers by imposing artificially high values on imported used cars.
The court will hear submissions later from the parties as to what order the Court of Appeal should make having regard to the fact the High Court did not address the question of whether Revenue had established the methodology used by it to determine the market selling price resulted generally in values that were close to their actual value.
Having regard to the elapse of time since the institution of these proceedings and the events to which they relate, those submissions can also address the breadth and nature of UCII’s claim on this single issue on which it succeeded, the judge said.
They should further address the utility and fairness of a remittal of this issue back to the High Court.
UCII, whose only directors were Niall O’Dowling and Fintan Riordan, began trading in 1989 to source good quality used cars from abroad, including Japan and the EU, and sell them to other dealers and direct to the public.
UCII was selling around 670 vehicles a month. All changed when in January 1993, in order to ensure no loss of revenue as a result of the opening of the EU single market, the government changed the system of vehicle registration and introduced VRT.
UCII brought its legal action in 1995 ,but it was not until 2012, because of issues over discovery of documents, the case was heard in the High Court where it ran for 33 days.
In his Court of Appeal judgment, Mr Justice Murray said there was an obligation on Revenue to make a policy of the kind at issue in this case publicly known.
In this regard he attached some significance to the failure of Revenue to respond to the queries raised in UCII’s correspondence of 1994 and the adherence by Revenue to an apparently deliberate policy of non-disclosure of the depreciation schedules which was unlawful.
However, he said UCII is wrong in contending Revenue was obliged to have regard to the price obtained on the sale of a vehicle in determining the open market price of that vehicle.
UCII was also mistaken in its contention there was a fundamental conflict in the evidence between its expert and those of Revenue as to the role of depreciation of vehicle tables in the methodology used.
The High Court’s conclusion, that the challenge to the rationality of that methodology failed, was based on valuations provided in the industry’s Car Sales Guide, that the guide was a reasonable reference point for this purpose and that UCII had failed to establish that its application systematically overvalued the vehicles.
UCII has not established that the High Court erred in any of these conclusions and it followed its challenge on grounds of irrationality had to fail, he said.