Tribunal Upholds Border Force Seizure of Rolex Watches Due to Deliberate Misdeclaration: Legal Principles on Reasonableness and Evidentiary Assessment Explored

Citation: [2023] UKFTT 963 (TC)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Watch Trading Co v The Director of Border Revenue, the First-tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber) had to address an appeal involving the seizure of Rolex watches by the Border Force. Of particular interest for legal professionals is the application of principles governing the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, the test of reasonableness in the context of a refusal to restore goods, and the treatment of evidentiary matters in administrative appeals involving customs and excise decisions.

Key Facts

The appellant, Watch Trading Co, a US-based company, shipped five Rolex watches valued at $59,000 to the UK but declared them as “precision instrument parts” valued at $500. The package was intercepted by the UK Border Force and seized on grounds of misdeclaration, speculated to be a deliberate attempt to evade import duties. The appellant argued that the misdeclaration was due to a mistake, asserting that the watches were meant to be sent internally within the USA. This became the crux of the factual dispute to be resolved by the Tribunal.

The Tribunal’s review of the Border Force’s non-restoration decision was grounded in the following legal principles:

  1. Jurisdiction under Finance Act 1994: The Tribunal’s jurisdiction to review the decision was determined under s 16(4) and Schedule 5 s.2(1)(r) of the Finance Act 1994, focusing on whether the decision of the Border Force was reasonable.

  2. Test of Reasonableness: Drawing from the judgment in C&E Commrs v JH Corbitt (Numismatists) Ltd [1980] STC 231, the Tribunal’s assessment hinged on whether the Border Force officer acted in a manner that no reasonable officer could, or failed to consider relevant factors. The Tribunal also looked at the concept of inevitability, as discussed in John Dee Ltd v Customs and Excise Comrs [1995] STC 941, where Neill LJ accepted that a decision can be upheld if the outcome would inevitably have been the same, despite overlooking additional material.

  3. Evidentiary Assessment: As per Gora v C&E Commrs [2003] EWCA Civ 525, the Tribunal was permitted to consider evidence that was not before the decision maker at the time of the original decision, thus allowing for the exercise of fact-finding based on this broader evidentiary basis.

Outcomes

Ultimately, the Tribunal found the appellant’s evidence to be “unreliable and inconsistent,” particularly regarding the key issue of whether the watches were sent to the UK by mistake. It rejected the appellant’s claim and upheld the Border Force’s decision, drawing on the evidence before it – including witness statements, the behavior of the parties regarding the shipment, and contradictions in testimony. The importation of Rolexes was deemed not a mistake, but a deliberate misdeclaration.

Conclusion

The Tribunal’s decision in Watch Trading Co v The Director of Border Revenue reinforces the imperative for appellants in excise appeals to provide coherent, consistent, and reliable evidence when asserting a claim of mistaken shipment. It reiterates the prudence with which the Tribunal applies the reasonableness test, evidencing an authoritative approach in assessing the facts in light of the available evidence. This case exemplifies the application of established legal principles to an appellant’s challenge to the decision of a customs authority on seizure and restoration matters, and it affirms the principle that the inevitable outcome can dictate the decision even if additional evidence is disregarded.

Related Summaries