Tuesday, December 23, 2014

British Tax Tribunal: Company Can Assert Religious Rights As Alter Ego of Owner

In Exmoor Coast Boat Cruises Ltd. v. Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs, (UK FTT, Dec. 17, 2014), the United Kingdom First-Tier Tribunal Tax Chamber held that a business entity can assert religious liberty rights where it is the alter ego of a natural person (or possibly a group of persons) whose rights are being infringed.  At issue was whether Exmoor Coast, a company, solely owned by Matthew Oxenham, could claim an exemption from mandatory electronic filing of Value Added Tax returns. VAT regulations permit paper filing by any "practising member of a religious society or order whose beliefs are incompatible with the use of electronic communications...."

The court concluded that while the alter ego test was met, it was not shown that the electronic filing requirement interferes with Oxenham's manifestation of his religion or belief. His objections relate to the amount of CO2 created by the Internet and its impact on climate change.  However Oxenham was willing to use the Internet for some purposes.  The court concluded:
... it was [Oxenham's] belief that the internet should not be used save where he judged it economically necessary to do so.... [T]hat belief does not attain a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance such that it should be protected. This is because his belief ... is not so strongly held that he will make economic sacrifices for it; further, [Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights] cannot have been intended to protect a belief system which allows the practitioner to pick and chose when it suits him to adhere to his principles as that would amount to allowing people to pick and choose when they can be compelled to obey the law.
Law & Religion UK has more on the case.