Supreme Court clarifies the concept of “documents pertaining to the case”
In tax proceedings, the Inspector must submit to the court all documents available to them that may be relevant for settling outstanding points of dispute.
14 May 2018
Objection and appeal
Accuracy should be observed when exercising legal remedies against tax assessments. The Dutch General Administrative Law Act, for instance, regulates the contents of notices of objection and appeal (name and address details, date, description of the contested decision, and substantiation) and the deadline for submitting such notices. Non-compliance with these regulations may result in disallowance of the objection or appeal.
The abovementioned Act also imposes obligations on the Inspector and, for instance, requires them to decide on objections within a certain period. And when appellate proceedings are instituted, they must submit any and all documents pertaining to the case to the administrative court. The scope of that obligation often gives rise to another dispute between the parties involved. After all, the Inspector possesses ever more and larger data files due to increasing digitalisation and more extensive information exchange. But are all these records relevant for settling tax proceedings? The Dutch Supreme Court recently pronounced a relevant judgment about this.
Records pertaining to the case
The Supreme Court first and foremost argues that the Inspector’s obligation to submit the documents pertaining to the case guarantees that disputes about the decision taken by the Inspector are settled based on all relevant factual data. Hence, the court can include this in its assessment. The obligation covers all the documents that are or have been available to the Inspector and may be relevant for settling the outstanding points of dispute. It is not relevant to what extent the Inspector has used these documents to substantiate their decision. Documents that have only been provided to the Inspector in appellate proceedings should also be submitted. However, the Inspector is not expected to actively search for documents that are not or have not been available to them.
The obligation to submit all documents pertaining to the case also covers digitally recorded data. But this obligation is not unlimited and, for instance, does not cover software programmes. Data included in an electronic database only qualify as “pertaining to the case” insofar as they are effectively relevant and can be consulted for the case under consideration. On the other hand, text files that contain relevant passages, such as letters and reports prepared in Word, must be submitted in their entirety.
In the case presented to it, the Supreme Court judged that the Court of Appeal correctly did not require the Inspector to submit as evidence the complete database of child care allowances applied for by and paid to approximately seventy thousand taxpayers. It was sufficient to submit screen prints from this database, which showed that the interested party had received income as a childminder in 2007.
Source: Dutch Supreme Court, HR 4 May 2018, 16/04237, ECLI:NL:HR:2018:672