The decision to refuse an application, even though legally correct, should take into consideration the prejudice an applicant is faced with when an entity’s website does not clearly identify which application form is correct or give adequate information on legal time limits.
This was decided by Magistrate Dr. Charmaine Galea in the case of Urs Schwinger vs Transport Malta u Ministru tal-Finanzi in front of the Administrative Review Tribunal on 16th July 2019.
The Tribunal heard the pleas by the plaintiff who explained that he is a German national who emigrated from Ukraine to Malta in December 2017, and wanted to register for a tax exemption under the Motor Vehicles Registration and Licences Act, Chapter 368 of the Laws of Malta.
The facts at hand were that his car arrived in Malta in March 2018 and he filed for a tax exemption in June 2018.
When the plaintiff went to apply for VRT, the person responsible informed him that he now had to fill in the VEH07 form to apply for the exemption, and downloaded a form for the applicant to fill in.
On this form it stated that he could apply for the tax exemption within 12 months from the date on which the person transferred their residence to Malta.
The applicant had to then fill in an online version, and upon Googling the form, he found the same form that was given to him previously and he filled it up and took it to Transport Malta.
Once there, an official from the entity told him that he had filled in an old form, and upon giving him the new one to submit, he realised that it said he had to fill in the application within 30 days from the date on which he transferred his residence to Malta.
Upon expressing his confusion, the official advised him to submit both forms for consideration by the Minister of Finance who will ultimately grant or reject the application.
The applicant also shortly afterwards e-mailed the Minister expressing his concern over the old application still being online and he submitted a clip showing how he found it and why he submitted it 7 days after the deadline.
Despite this, the Minister rejected the application because it was submitted after the 30 days required by the new admissibility criteria.
The plaintiff was therefore requesting the Tribunal to revoke the Ministers’ decision.
The Court then heard the defence by Transport Malta who primarily asked the Tribunal to find them illegitimate defendants for the purposes of this case.
This is because they are a separate entity to the Ministry, and Transport Malta plays no part in the decision making process of who qualifies for the tax exemption.
While the Tribunal accepted this and stated that they shall be spared from the consequences of the judgement, they were ordered to cover their own expenses and reprimanded by the Tribunal for failing to ensure that the older version of the application form was not on the website as it contained information that would seriously prejudice the applicant.
The Tribunal then heard the defence by the Minister who stated that in accordance with Subsidiary Legislation 368.01, the Exemption from Motor Vehicles Registration Tax Rules, an application for exemption from tax rules must be done within 30 days.
It was also held that on the Transport Malta website the most recent application could be found, and that this was the plaintiff’s responsibility.
The Minister stated that the latest applicable time limits had to be followed and therefore the application could not have legally been accepted.
The Tribunal held that although the decision the Minister made was legally correct, it could not simply stop there because the information on the form that the applicant downloaded was misleading.
The Tribunal held that in this case it was clear that the applicant was genuine, and even emailed the Minister explaining the issue at hand.
The Tribunal held that the mix up was solely attributed to the fact that Transport Malta misguided the applicant.
Furthermore, Transport Malta had already been reprimanded by the Tribunal in previous cases on the lack of clear information provided in relation to the application form.
The Tribunal therefore revoked the Ministers’ decision and found in the plaintiffs’ favour, ordering Transport Malta to cover its own cost and the Ministry to cover the rest of the expenses.
Avv. Malcolm Mifsud
Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates