Customs Appellate Tribunal Revamped for Faster Case Resolution

Customs Appellate Tribunal Revamped for Faster Case Resolution

Karachi, Pakistan – July 7, 2024 – The Finance Act, 2024 has ushered in a significant change aimed at expediting the resolution of customs-related disputes. The Act amends Section 194 of the Customs Act, 1969, outlining a revised structure for the Customs Appellate Tribunal (CAT).

Greater Flexibility in Appointments:

Previously, appointments to the CAT were subject to the Federal Public Service Commission Ordinance, 1977. The amended section grants the Federal Government more flexibility in selecting tribunal members. The government will now be able to determine the number of members, appointment procedures, and terms and conditions through independent regulations. This bypasses the limitations imposed by the previous ordinance and allows for a potentially more agile appointment process.

Preserving Existing Appointments:

The amendment ensures a smooth transition by allowing existing CAT members, including the chairman, to retain their positions under the same terms and conditions until their current terms expire. This provision safeguards continuity and institutional knowledge during the implementation of the new structure.

Qualifications for Membership:

The Act establishes clear eligibility criteria for future CAT members. These categories include:

• Legal Experts: Advocates with a minimum of 15 years of experience in a High Court, demonstrable expertise in customs law, and a proven track record of handling at least 50 customs cases across various forums. Additional qualifications may be specified in future regulations.

• Senior Customs Officers: Individuals holding positions of BS-21 or above within the Pakistan Customs Service.

• Experienced Customs Officers: Officers holding positions of BS-20 within the Pakistan Customs Service with a minimum of three years of experience in that grade.

Selection of Chairperson:

The Federal Government will appoint a chairman from among the members who meet the legal expert qualifications outlined in clause (a) of subsection (3). The chairman will serve a three-year term with the possibility of reappointment.

Term Limits and Removal:

The Act establishes a standard retirement age of 62 for all CAT members, including the chairman. However, members appointed from the Customs Service (categories b and c) will be subject to the retirement age stipulated by their respective service regulations. The amendment also outlines a mechanism for removing members, including the chairman, before the expiry of their term or reaching retirement age. Removal can occur based on the recommendations of a performance review committee established through the regulations mentioned in subsection (2). Grounds for removal will be clearly defined within these regulations, likely focusing on inefficiency or misconduct.

Expected Impact:

The revamped CAT structure aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the tribunal. The ability to appoint a wider pool of qualified individuals, including legal experts with specialized knowledge of customs law, could lead to more informed and expeditious case resolutions. Additionally, the introduction of a performance review committee provides a mechanism for ensuring accountability and maintaining high standards within the tribunal.

Looking Forward:

The implementation of the amended Section 194 is a positive step towards streamlining customs dispute resolution in Pakistan. With a more flexible appointment process, diverse membership options, and a focus on performance evaluation, the revamped CAT has the potential to significantly reduce case backlogs and enhance the overall business environment for trade-related activities in the country.