KARACHI: The Customs Appellate Tribunal’s recent decisions have come under scrutiny following a reference application that has raised concerns. The application challenges a judgment dated April 7, 2023, in Appeal No. K-2268/2022 and related matters, which allowed the respondent’s appeal.

In a recent development, the department’s learned counsel pointed to an order dated September 28, 2023, passed in SCRA No. 1193 of 2023, involving “The Director General Customs Valuation v. Prime Trading” and other connected matters. This order was issued by a Division Bench of the Court. The counsel noted that paragraphs 10 and 11 of the impugned order referenced a different description of goods compared to the controversy resolved in favor of the respondent. As a result, the order in that reference was set aside, and specific directions were given to the Chairman of the Tribunal.

Sardar Zafar Hussain Advocate appeared on behalf of Directorate General Customs Valuation.

What has raised eyebrows is the discovery that in the current matters, although a different order issued by a different Bench is being challenged, paragraphs 10 and 11 of both orders are identical.

When questioned, the respondent’s counsel revealed that the Tribunal had rectified the impugned order on October 18, 2023. Notably, this rectification came after the Court’s order of September 28, 2023, which set aside the original order. Upon examination, the Court found the rectification to be unsatisfactory, raising suspicions that it may have been an attempt to nullify the Court’s decision. This conduct by the Tribunal has drawn criticism.

The situation also suggests that the members of the Bench that issued the impugned order may have failed to fully grasp the facts before them. This raises concerns about the Tribunal’s ability to appreciate the true and accurate facts and apply independent judgment. The apparent act of copy-pasting facts has come under scrutiny, further complicating the work of the Court, despite the Tribunal being the final fact-finding forum in the tax hierarchy, as per established legal principles.

In light of these circumstances, the Court has taken the exceptional step of issuing a notice to the Chairman of the Tribunal. The Chairman is required to appear before the Court, bringing the relevant records of both sets of orders under review. The Chairman will assist the Court in understanding the formation of Benches and the conduct of Tribunal members when hearing appeals, particularly those related to revisions and valuation rulings.

Customs Appellate Tribunal is considered the hub of corruption and irregularities, where decisions are allegedly sold.