The use of a customs lawyer


Customs law is a complicated area of law as it involves civil and criminal law, as well as European law and laws in other jurisdictions. If you are concerned that HM Revenue & Customs may be bringing a case against you, it is important that you immediately contact a customs lawyer who can assist with defending the case.

What are customs laws?

Customs laws are contained in national law, European Community legislation and international rules. Most contraventions of customs rules under civil law relate to:

  • Import
  • Export
  • VAT

Criminal law governs prohibitions and restrictions, amongst other contraventions. Customs officers have a number of options when dealing with breaches of customs laws. If the alleged breach of the laws relates to bringing in goods and the goods are available to customs officers, they will have the opportunity to seize the goods.

In civil claims by HM Revenue & Customs it is possible to claim that you have a reasonable excuse to breaching customs laws. It is likely that you will need the help of a customs lawyer to assist you with obtaining the evidence required to show a reasonable excuse.

The civil laws on customs and excise contraventions were introduced by the Finance Act 2003 so are still relatively new. It is worth noting that the aim of the Act was to punish dishonest contravention, rather than honest mistakes.

How can a lawyer help?

Customs lawyers can help with defending civil or criminal claims or prosecutions by HM Revenue & Customs. The police are also sometimes involved in customs prosecutions.

Customs penalties can be severe and if you are notified of any intention by HM Revenue & Customs to take action against you, you should immediately contact a firm which has customs solicitors.

Customs solicitors can assist with:

  • Initial evidence gathering and assessment;
  • Assessing whether HM Revenue & Customs are likely to succeed with their claim;
  • Negotiations regarding any fine issued by HMRC
  • Encouraging HM Revenue & Customs to drop penalties

In certain situations it may be possible to state that you have a reasonable explanation for any errors in customs payments. The intention of legislation for civil penalties was not to penalise honest mistakes but to penalise intentional non-payment of duties.

If your non-payment was honest then a customs solicitor should help you to avoid penalties. In the event that HM Revenue & Customs do impose a penalty, it is possible to appeal their decision and it is imperative that a solicitor is instructed to have the best chance of succeeding in this appeal.

It is important to understand that different breaches result in different legal rules being applied. The rules for contravention of import duty are different to those that apply to contravention of excise duties. Customs legislation is also different to laws which cover the operation of excise. Different penalties and procedures operate for different types of breach and you should instruct customs solicitors to advise you on the differences.

For further advice on using a lawyer, see our page on using a tax lawyer.

Do you require the assistance of a tax lawyer to help you with a customs dispute with the HMRC? Contact Law works with specialist tax lawyers who can assist you in negotiating with the HMRC and trying to reach a resolution. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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