The Bombay High Court recently examined an important question of law that whether tax appeals against orders from different tribunals can be heard at the principal bench of the high court even though the dispute arose in a district which comes under other benches like Nagpur, Aurangabad or Goa.
A division bench of Justice MS Sanklecha and Justice Riyaz Chagla held that under the appellate side rules, these appeals are to be heard by the respective benches of the high court which have jurisdiction over the district where the dispute arose, not the principal bench.
The court was hearing five appeals, three of them under Section 130 of the Customs Act, 1962 (Customs Act) and two of them under Section 35G of the Central Excise Act, 1944 challenging individual orders passed by the Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal, Mumbai.
The Department of Revenue objected to hearing of all these appeals before the principal seat in Mumbai, as the actual disputes arose in other districts that come under the Nagpur bench and Goa bench of the high court.
Senior Counsel VR Sridharan appeared on behalf of the appellants and relied upon the high court’s decision in Vinar Ispat Ltd. Vs. Commissioner of Central Excise, (2012) and in Facor Steel Vs. Commissioner of Central Excise.
The court noted that these decisions were rendered before the insertion of an amendment to the appellate side rules, Chapter XXIV-A on October 27, 2014, and thus the court had no occasion to consider and deal with it.
“The amendment clearly restricts the filing of tax appeals before the appellate side of the Principal bench of this Court to only such appeals from orders of the Tribunal which arise out of the specified districts therein. Therefore, it is no longer the situs of the Tribunal which decides which of the benches or the principal seat of this Court to which an appeal lies but the place where the dispute arose,” the court said.
Making the position of law clear in case of such appeals, the court observed-
“It is a settled position in law that the practice of the Court is the law of the Court. In fact, the Supreme Court in Collector of Central Excise Vs. Standard Motors Products had while refusing to interfere with the practice of the Court relied upon the maxim “Cursus curiae est lex curiae” i.e. practice of the Court is the law of the Court. In this case the Appellate Side Rules is the published Rules making it known to all concerned that the manner in which this Court has distributed the work amongst its benches (including the principal seat).
Therefore, these Rules are higher than any unwritten practice and have to be followed by those who seek to challenge order of the Tribunal passed at Mumbai in respect of Excise and Customs appeals. Thus, in terms of the Appellate Side Rules, the appeals have to be presented at that bench (including the principal seat) which has been allocated the place where the dispute has arisen and not the place where the appellate authority is situated.”