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IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
11TH FEBRUARY, 1966.
SIR LIONEL BRETT, J.S.C. (Presided and Read the Judgment of the Court)
GEORGE BAPTIST AYODOLA COKER, J.S.C.
CHUKWUNWEIKE IDIGBE, J.S.C.
THE REGIONAL TAX BOARD
Ademola – for the Appellant
Y.O. Adio, Senior State Counsel – for the Respondent
TAXATION AND REVENUE LAW – INCOME TAX:- Assessment of Income – Where aggrieved tax payer did not appeal within prescribed time – Effect of Section 55 of Income Tax Law, Western Nigeria thereon
PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE – JUDGMENT AND ORDER:- Declaration – Consequential relief not claimed – Whether grantable.
PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE – JURISDICTION:- High Court – Power to entertain appeal against tax assessment under section 55 of the Income Tax Law.
BRETT, J.S.C. (Delivering the Judgment of the Court):
The appellant brought an action in the High Court of Western Nigeria, asking for a declaration
(i) that he was not liable to pay tax for the year of assessment 1962/ 1963 on property at No. 61A Lebanon Street, Ibadan, on the ground that the property was not his property from which he derived any income
(ii) that the assessment notice served on him was null and void. His Statement of Claim made it clear that what he was objecting to was the decision of the Board to treat his action in conveying the property concerned to his wife as an artificial or fictitious transaction or disposition in accordance with section 15 of the Income Tax Law, and the pleading concluded by saying that this decision was wrong in law and therefore null and void.
The High Court considered the claim on the merits and dismissed it, without going into the question whether it could properly entertain it, but the question was raised by this Court of its own motion as a preliminary issue. Part X of the Income Tax Law enables a person who is aggrieved with an assessment upon him to appeal to a local committee, and further appeals lie to a Judge of the High Court and, where the assessable income as determined by the Judge was in the sum of one thousand pounds or more, to this Court.
Section 55 provides that –
“Except as expressly provided in this Law, where no appeal has been lodged within the time limited by this Part against an assessment as regards the amount of the chargeable income assessed thereby ….; or where the amount of such chargeable income has been determined on objection, revision or appeal, the assessment as made….; shall be final and conclusive for all purposes of this Law as regards the amount of such chargeable income.”
The purpose of the present action is to dispute the amount of the appellant’s chargeable income, and since he has not exercised his statutory right of appeal the consequence of section 55 is that the assessment made by the Board is final and conclusive for all the purposes of the Income Tax Law as regards that amount. It is true that the court may grant a declaration even where no consequential relief is or could be claimed, and that the limits of the jurisdiction are to a great extent set by the discretion of the court itself but, whether it is in strictness a rule of law or a rule of practice so invariable as to have become virtually a rule of law, the authorities establish beyond doubt that the court will not entertain an action for declaration where it is clear that no useful purpose would be served by the court’s decision. In our view this rule applies in the present case.
Mr. Ademola urged that it was desirable to have an authoritative interpretation of section 15 of the Income Tax Law, but the appeals provided for by the Law itself afford the means of securing such an interpretation and there is no reason for departing from the ordinary practice of the courts as regards declaratory judgments. As regards the first part of the declaration sought in this case, if the court were to hold that the Board had been right it would add nothing to an assessment which has already become final and conclusive; if the court were to declare that the Board had been wrong it would take nothing from the assessment and would merely lead to confusion. On the pleadings the second part of the declaration sought is consequential on the first and if the court declines to consider one it cannot consider the other.
For this reason we must hold that the trial Judge ought not to have given a decision on the merits, and in dismissing the appeal we express no opinion on the correctness of the decision he gave.
Though it did not arise on the pleadings, an issue was raised in the High Court and in the grounds of appeal as to the authority of the Regional Tax Board to make the assessment. It may be that different considerations would apply to that issue but Mr. Ademola did not seek to argue it, and having regard to section 3B(1) (dd) and (1A) of the Income Tax Law there is prima facie no substance in it.
On these grounds the appeal was dismissed, with costs assessed at 23 guineas.
COKER, J.S.C.: I concur.
IDIGBE, J.S.C.: I concur.