I’ve been contacted by two businesses which had instructed Amrit Johal, partner of London law firm Rainer Hughes, over HMRC’s substantial seizures of alcohol. He challenged at their local magistrates that both were unlawful seizures and won with legal costs awarded.
Back in April I reported a prior case, which Amrit won in the High Court on behalf of high-profile wholesaler EastEnders. It was a landmark ruling that said HMRC had to have factual evidence and not just follow its nose (which may well be now out of joint), in order to detain stock.
The victories show that HMRC’s actions can correctly and lawfully be challenged not only at the High Court, but at local magistrates’ level, up and down the country.
Amrit says: “There are numerous seizures being unchallenged at court on a daily basis. I would urge the trades to consider challenging the seizures, as it can help save businesses in the long run. If a seizure notice is provided, I would urge that legal advice is taken straightaway. It is a myth that the local shopkeeper or trader cannot be victorious against HMRC and recover its stock and legal costs. The recent examples demonstrate this.”
Amrit’s recent clients do not want to be named because both suspect that HMRC could come after them again (with afore-mentioned nose-out-of-joint).
They could well be right. HMRC is manned by, no doubt, some good people, challenged by the huge levels of contraband washing around.
On the other hand, some are going to be petty officials with enormous powers and, if thwarted, may just go looking for their microscopes. Who could stand up to close and constant scrutiny among us? They will find some imperfection and get out their rule books.
I should point out that both these retailers/wholesalers also fear for their reputations. One told me that he was hauled up before a district judge in a magistrates’ court “full of hoodies and petty criminals”. Yes, not nice.
And he added: “People only read/remember headlines.”
He was understanding of HMRC, sympathising with the mammoth task they face in trying to recoup the losses to the taxpayer/treasury. Trouble is, it’s easier to hit on non-moving targets and detain or seize stock. And at that point it all gets clandestine. HMRC won’t (or can’t) respond to any questions. It should mean that its officials do some sort of tracking of stock. But they often don’t. (Organised criminals are behind this type of fraud and they are clever at laying smokescreens so HMRC will sometimes go after sitting ducks/soft targets.)
One of the guys who spoke to me said he assumed Customs would be investigating. Then came the seizure order. He tried to go follow the trail and everyone said, nope, Customs haven’t been in touch. No enquiries. So the onus was on him to prove it wasn’t dodgy stock.
The legitimate wholesaler network now knows that Amrit Johal or Sanjay Panesar is its specialist defence. I would urge you to contact them on 07500 833 228/07715 489 174 - they seem to be making a difference.
And to all retailers buying from wholesalers don’t do dodgy. It’s cheap yes, but risky. And nasty.