Lawyers have complained of long delays, poor case management and a lack of judicial engagement in a study on the future of tax tribunals.

A report published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that delays were a ‘major cause of dissatisfaction’ among tax tribunal users, with some decisions taking over a year to be written up. Solicitors and barristers also expressed ‘considerable concern’ over the allocation of judges to hear cases.

‘Many survey respondents and interviewees suggested that some judges lacked either the technical knowledge or technical ability to hear the cases they were allocated,’ the research group said.

Tribunal users also reported a lack of engagement by some judges during hearings, which they attributed either to a lack of judicial preparation or to the judge not having the necessary knowledge or skills to hear the case.

‘We have no doubt that the tribunal judges are highly conscientious and committed,’ the institute said. ‘However, if they are over-listed, a backlog of decisions will build up. This will create a vicious cycle: due to the build-up of decision writing work, tribunal judges may not be able to appropriately read into new cases.’

The study said it is ‘perhaps not surprising’ that it is difficult to recruit tax specialists to be judges. ‘The financial rewards from tax work, in private practice, are very substantial and (even having regard to judicial pensions) such rewards cannot be realistically matched by a judicial salary or the daily fee of a fee-paid judge.

‘Moving to a job in a tribunal, which appears overstretched and under-resourced and does not have a realistic assessment of the hours necessary to prepare for and write up decisions, would therefore, perhaps, not seem attractive.’

The report recommends that the government increase the overall number of sitting days and ensure that all judges have sufficient paid writing and preparation days to ‘realistically discharge’ their jobs. It added that case management should be more robust and that judges should consider whether their decisions might be shortened.

Responding to the study, commercial firm RPC said the delays are ‘unacceptable’. RPC tax partner Robert Waterson said: ‘The report makes it clear that delay in the tribunals is endemic. This relates to under resourcing in all parts of the tribunal system; from a lack of digital support systems leading to needless hearings and unnecessarily drawn-out processes, to a lack of judicial resourcing limiting the number of sitting and preparation days that the tribunal has available.'

The research was carried out by the IFS's Tax Law Review Committee.