Skat v Solo Capital Partners. When faced with Dicey rule 3, I’ll see your tax claim and raise it to a fraud one.

I reviewed the first instance judgment in Skat v Solo Capital Partners here and concluded that it endangered the effet utile of Brussels Ia (and Lugano). Justice Baker had concluded that all SKAT’s claims were inadmissible as a consequence of Dicey Rule 3. The Court of Appeal has now largely reversed, [Skatteforvaltningen v Solo Capital Partners Llp [2022] EWCA Civ 234] thereby resurrecting a £1,4 billion claim.

SKAT (Danish customs and excise) seeks the return of amounts it says it was wrongly induced to pay out as tax refunds. SKAT is not seeking to recover due and unpaid dividend tax or indeed any tax, because the foundation of its argument is that in the case of the alleged fraud defendants there was no liability to pay tax, no shares, no dividends, no tax and no withholding tax. There was never a taxpayer/tax authority relationship between the Solo etc Applicants or the alleged fraud defendants and SKAT. The mere fact that the alleged fraud is committed in the context of taxation or against a foreign tax authority is insufficient to bring the matter within the rule [SKAT’s counsel arguments, [30]-[31]). To allow the defendants to escape their liability, not in a tax fraud but in a general conspiracy, would also run counter the fraus omnia corrumpit principle [ditto, 62], a point which Flaux C agrees with obiter [146] in a case of a major international fraud..

Flaux C is much less verbose than the submissions before him. Yet again a jurisdictional point was allowed to be litigated to great length – albeit one may appreciate counsel and clients’ energy on those issues given the value of the claim.

[127] the basis of the claim is fraudulent misrepresentation. It is not a claim to unpaid tax or a claim to recover tax at all. It is a claim to recover monies which had been abstracted from SKAT’s general funds by fraud [128]. Even though SKAT may be an emanation of the Danish state, the Dicey revenue rule does not apply [128], neither does the wider sovereign powers rule within Dicey Rule 3:

‘In bringing a claim to recover the monies of which it was defrauded, SKAT is not doing an act of a sovereign character or enforcing a sovereign right, nor is it seeking to vindicate a sovereign power. Rather it is making a claim as the victim of fraud for the restitution of monies of which it has been defrauded, in the same way as if it were a private citizen.’ [129]

This latter reasoning falls short I find of proper criteria to guide its future application, although more is said at [130]: the claim to recover the money is at the core of the Chancellor’s reasoning here and that claim is a straightforward money claim, and [133] ‘the claims are ones which could just as well be brought by a private citizen’. That is the kind of argument which echoes CJEU authority on civil and commercial and to my mind the Court of Appeal could have helped us all by pointing out more specifically to what degree Dicey Rule 3 be informed by CJEU authority on ‘civil and commercial’, regardless of Brexit.

That there would be a detailed examination of the Danish tax regime and possible criticism of it and of SKAT’s systems and control, does not somehow convert the claim into one to enforce that tax regime. Recognition of foreign revenue laws is permissible under Dicey Rule 3 [138].

The position of one of the defendants, ED&F Man, is different in the sense that there is no allegation that they were implicated in a fraud. Although it is alleged that misrepresentations were made by them, the misrepresentations are said to have been negligent.

SKAT has to accept that as against those defendants the claim is inadmissible by virtue of Dicey Rule 3 unless it can satisfy the Court: (i) that the claim is a “civil and commercial matter” not a “revenue matter” for the purposes of Article 1(1) of the Brussels Recast Regulation; and (ii) that the operation of Dicey Rule 3 is precluded because, contrary to the judge’s analysis, it would impair the effectiveness of the Brussels Recast Regulation.

Contrary to the conclusion the judge reached the Court of Appeal finds that the claim against ED&F Man is a “revenue matter” falling outside the Brussels Recast Regulation. Here the Court of Appeals applies parity of reasoning with its assessment of the other claims: [150]:

Whilst the test for the application of Dicey Rule 3 may not be identical to that for determining what is a “revenue etc matter” for Article 1(1) of the Brussels Recast Regulation, it can be seen that its application leads to the same answer. If Dicey Rule 3 applies (as SKAT has to accept it does in relation to the claim against ED&F Man) then by the same reasoning, the basis for the claim by SKAT against those defendants is either a right which arises from an exercise of public powers or a legal relationship characterised by an exercise of public powers, from which it necessarily follows that the claim is a revenue matter outside the Brussels Recast Regulation.

Unfortunately therefore the effet utile argument (that application of Dicey rule 3 impairs the effectiveness of BIa /Lugano, as I had argued in my earlier post) is not discussed [153].

The title of this piece of course hints at the relevance of claim formulation. It is also exaggerated: SKAT cannot conjure up fraud elements out of nowhere to reinvent a tax claim as one in mere tortious and fraudulent misrepresentation. However it is clear that in cases that are somewhat murky, claim formulation will be crucial to navigate Dicey Rule 3.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.28 ff.

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