The Polish Tax Code; the so-called silent interpretation K 49/12
The challenged provision of the Polish Tax Code, insofar as the term ‘the non-issuance of an interpretation’ does not mean failure to serve it within the time-limit set out in Article 14d of the said Code, is consistent with the Constitution.
At the hearing on 25 September 2014 at 9.00 a.m., the Constitutional Tribunal considered an application, submitted by the Polish Ombudsman, with regard to the Polish Tax Code as to the question of the so-called silent interpretation.
The Constitutional Tribunal adjudicated that Article 14o(1) of the Act of 29 August 1997 – the Polish Tax Code, construed in the way that the term ‘the non-issuance of an interpretation’ did not mean failure to serve it within the time-limit set out in Article 14d of the said Act, was consistent with the principle of protection of citizens’ trust in the state and its laws, arising from Article 2 of the Constitution.
The Ombudsman challenged Article 14o(1) of the Act of 29 August 1997 – the Polish Tax Code (hereinafter: the Tax Code), which stipulated that: “If the interpretation of tax-law provisions with regard to an individual case is not issued within the time-limit determined in Article 14d, it is assumed that, on the day following the date when the time-limit to issue such an interpretation expires, an interpretation confirming the accuracy of the applicant’s interpretation is issued” (the so-called silent interpretation). By contrast, pursuant to Article 14d of the Tax Code, the interpretation of tax-law provisions with regard to an individual case shall be issued without undue delay, but no later than within 3 months from the receipt of an application. However, the said time limit does not comprise time-limits set out in tax-law provisions for carrying out certain actions as well as periods of delays caused by circumstances beyond the control of a given authority (including the fault of the applicant).
The Constitutional Tribunal pointed out that the organs of public authority were obliged to adopt such a binding interpretation of provisions that would render them as constitutional and that would to the largest extent guarantee the implementation of constitutional norms.
The Constitutional Tribunal stressed that the acceptance of a norm in the light of which the above-mentioned interpretation is issued within the time-limit of 3 months from the date of the receipt of a relevant application, i.e. the interpretation needs to be drafted (issued) before the lapse of that period, and not – as the applicant argued – that the document had to be served on the addressee, is conducive to the implementation of the constitutional principle of the specificity of legal provisions (the precision, accuracy and lucidity thereof).
In particular, this follows from the fact that one term used in various provisions of the same normative act is assigned an identical meaning. This guarantees the legal security of the individual which implies the consistency of the interpretation of a given term within the scope of entire legal regulation.
This refers to the term ‘the issuance of’ a document (the interpretation of tax-law provisions with regard to an individual case, an administrative decision, or a certificate) which, in every case, should be distinguished from another term appearing in the provisions, namely the service of the said document (the interpretation of tax-law provisions with regard to an individual case, an administrative decision, or a certificate).
The above suggests that what determines whether the time-limit set out in Article 14d of the Tax Code for resolving “the question of the interpretation” has been met is the moment of drafting the interpretation of tax-law provisions with regard to an individual case in accordance with the requirements specified in Article 14c of the Tax Code. Such way of construing the regulation under analysis is consistent with the assessment of an analogical issue of calculating the time-limit for processing a case in the light of Article 139 of the Tax Code, which refers to administrative tax proceedings.
The Tribunal noted that the legal character of the interpretation of tax-law provisions with regard to an individual case did not hinder (but rather was conducive to) the adoption of the interpretation of Article 14o of the Tax Code arrived at by the Supreme Administrative Court in the case II FPS 7/09.
In the context of the case under examination, the Tribunal decided to signal to the Sejm of the Republic of Poland that there was a need to take legislative action to introduce an official way of notifying the taxpayer that the interpretation of tax-law provisions with regard to his/her case was issued (drafted and signed) before the lapse of the time-limit of 3 months from the date when the relevant applicant had been received as well as whether the interpretation was positive or negative for the taxpayer.
The hearing was presided over by Judge Leon Kieres, and the Judge Rapporteur was Judge Zbigniew Cieślak.