The Federal Court has overturned a decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that reaffirmed the Tax Practitioners Board’s decision to terminate a tax agent’s registration, calling for the matter to be reconsidered by a differently constituted AAT.
In late 2017, the TPB had terminated Barbara Beckett’s tax agent registration on the grounds that she did not meet the fit and proper person criteria, due to the fact that she had previous convictions for proffering false-dated copies of bank cheques during a statutory examination by the NSW Office of State Revenue, and her non-disclosure in her annual declaration of an unsatisfactory professional conduct reprimand that she had received from the Legal Profession Board of Tasmania.
The AAT upheld the TPB’s decision in June 2018, leading Ms Beckett to appeal to the Federal Court.
In allowing the appeal, the Federal Court upheld Ms Beckett’s complaint of procedural unfairness, noting that the AAT had failed to give adequate notice to the applicant that her conduct before her statutory examination was relevant as independently probative in an assessment of her contemporary fitness and propriety.
The Federal Court also allowed the appeal that the AAT had applied an approach “that was unjustifiable and incorrect in law” in the findings it made concerning the applicant’s character references.
It rejected the AAT’s reasoning of not accepting four positive character references out of Ms Beckett’s approximately 1,400 client base as illogical, irrational and lacking in intelligible justification.
“The Senior Member’s reasoning appears to be that he could not be satisfied of the applicant’s contemporary good fame and character on the basis of three (sic) unchallenged character references provided by clients of the applicant because he did not know the attitude of other clients in her large client base,” Justice Griffiths said.
“What is left entirely unclear, however, is how many more client affidavits would be required to provide a basis for the relevant satisfaction. Is it 10, 50, 100, 500, or every one of those clients? As I have emphasised, the character references which were before the AAT were all unchallenged.”
The matter has now been remitted to the AAT for reconsideration, with the court accepting that it should not go back to the AAT Senior Member because he had “entered the field of battle to such a degree and expressed views concerning [the applicant’s] credit”.