brown gavel and open book on a wooden table of the law in the courtroom

An appeal sent by email to the First-tier Tribunal was not validly served after it was blocked by the Tribunal’s firewall.  The case highlights the risk of using email to send important information to the courts without checking it has been safely received, and represents a precedent for the risk in general.

The appeal related to an investigation by HM Revenue & Customs into Jeffrey Ashfield’s tax affairs, which concluded that he owed the tax authority £386,000.  Mr Ashfield appealed the assessment, but there is no record that the appeal documents, which were emailed to the Tribunal by his accountant, were received. 

The problem was revealed when HMRC’s debt management department contacted Mr Ashfield to follow up on the outstanding debt. It is thought likely that the original email which was 10mb in size was blocked by the Tribunal’s server.

In court Judge Philip Gillett ruled that the appeal had not been validly served.  “The problems with the correct delivery of electronic material are well known and anyone hoping to rely on email as a consistent and reliable provider of delivery services knows that they are taking a risk in this regard,” he said.

At the same time the judge granted permission for late notification of the appeal due to the large sums of money involved and because Mr Ashfield may have an arguable case against the tax assessment.

This is a timely warning for professionals about the risks of sending information by email and not confirming receipt,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions said: “Key communications such as contracts, notices, appeals and pay-less notices can go missing, particularly where there are large file sizes, and the judge in this case was clear that receipt by a server was not sufficient.  If the document is important, it is wise to check it has been received to avoid complaints or conflict further down the line. Where possible, limitation clauses within a contract excluding delivery failure, interception or interference with email are also a useful risk management step.

Reports about the case have been published by Litigation Futures.

Brunel provides professional indemnity insurance broking services to professional firms.  Visit our website to find out more or call Jonathan Filer on +44 (0)117 325 0752.