A tax tribunal is a court that hears only tax-related cases. These kinds of tribunals are called tax courts in some jurisdictions. Their primary function is to settle tax collection disputes between citizens and the government.
Almost every country in the world has some kind of tax structure. Some smaller localities, like cities and states, also assess taxes. Citizens and residents are usually obligated to pay taxes by virtue of the governing tax laws.
In some countries, like Australia and Great Britain, tax disputes are filed with every other dispute, in courts of general jurisdiction. Other countries, such as the United States, Canada, and India, have special tax divisions of their court systems. In these countries, a tax tribunal is the place where disputes about how tax law has been applied are heard, and is where tax application questions are resolved. Tax tribunals were designed in many respects to prevent the main court system from being overwhelmed with nuanced and complicated tax policy questions.
Judges specially trained in tax law preside over tax tribunals. Different jurisdictions have different rules with respect to how judges are selected, but most are appointed by local or national leaders. A judge in a tax tribunal will hear nothing but tax-related questions, and is generally regarded as an authority on how various tax structures should be applied.
There are several different kinds of tax tribunal. The most basic operates as an administrative court, entertaining grievances that taxpayers have against local tax authorities. Administrative tax tribunals deal mainly with city taxing authorities, and county-level property tax assessments. Sometimes trials are held in these settings, but settlements and negotiated resolutions are more common.
Many states and provinces also have tax tribunals. A taxpayer who wishes to file a claim against a state-level taxation authority will do so here. State tax tribunals are usually more formal than administrative tax tribunals, and operate more like regular courts. Although settlements are almost always encouraged, trials often happen in state tax tribunals.
Tax tribunals are commonly paired with tax appeals tribunals. When a taxpayer finds fault with a tribunal’s determination, or when the tax authority wants the decision reviewed, the case is usually forwarded to a tax appeals tribunal. Appeals tribunals are often housed in the same building as the regular tax tribunal, but their dockets are comprised solely of reviews.
Grievances against the overarching national government are typically brought to national tax tribunals. There is usually only one national tax tribunal in a given country, which means that the wait time for a decision or even a hearing can be quite long. Some courts, like the U.S. Tax Court, have a “fast track” option for minor grievances. Even the fast track takes time, however, and filing can be costly. Usually only the most egregious tax complaints are pursued at the national tax tribunal level.