SHC hears petitions against Tax on services

KARACHI: An appellate bench of High Court of Sindh (SHC) comprising Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi and Justice Mahmood A Khan on Tuesday heard about a dozen petitions filed by Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA), Karachi Tax Bar Association and other service providers against imposition of Sales Tax on service at a rate of 13.5 per cent.

Former Attorney General, Barrister Makhdoom Ali Khan lead the battery of lawyers representing different petitioners. He referred to Legal Practitioners Act and said when the Sindh Revenue Board asked for description of services, it goes beyond its jurisdiction. He referred to different sections and said legal services in Pakistan cannot be taxed. Our constitution makes state responsible for cheap and expeditious justice.

The state can provide mechanism, the bench observed adding that court fee is required to be paid. Barrister Makhdoom relied on Article 37 and said in penal proceedings there is no court fee. This section if read with Article 4 and 10-A of the constitution establishes that access to justice and liberty is free of any charge, he said but by virtue of the tax on services “Access to Justice” is being taxed, he said.

The bench asked about systems and concept of free justice in other parts of the world and in Pakistan. Responding to question raised, the leading counsel said that under Pakistani laws, the state provides a counsel on state expenses to represent an accused unable to hire a counsel.

When asked about effect of the such tax on lawyers, counsel said that lawyers pay professional tax besides income tax. The laws say that tax on lawyers is in domain of the federation and thus provinces has no jurisdiction to demand any other tax.

Dilating upon the scheme of tax on services, he said more renowned lawyer would be paying more tax and this would discourage the pro-bono publico nature of cases where lawyers either charge no money or takes a bare minimum fee or even only expenses for processing of case. He said tax on services will go directly to general revenue and not used for improvement of judicial infra structure or well being of judiciary. Instead this will be spent on helicopter of CM, for tea parties and other such expenditures.

Justice Mahmood A Khan asked about Islamic concept at which the counsel said that it was lead by Qazi who holds a court in a mosque and no money or lawyer was required. The test of witness was ones reputation in the society and his character. That system was not adversarial, he added.

He was on his feet when the bench adjourned further proceedings treating it as a part heard matter.

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