In its ruling of 7 December 2012 (AZ: 6 K 1736/10), the Rhineland-Palatinate Finance Court ruled that filing an action by e-mail may also be permissible without a qualified electronic signature.
GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors, Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Bremen, Duesseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Munich, Nuremberg, Stuttgart and London explain: The claimants desired that various expenses be taken into account for tax purposes. When the tax office did not comply with this desire, they initially lodged the necessary appeal, yet it was dismissed by the tax office as unfounded. In the information on available legal remedies, it was pointed out to them, among other things, that the claim was to be submitted in writing to the Court. According to the law, written form can in principle be replaced with electronic form, yet this requires a qualified electronic signature as defined by the German Digital Signature Act.
The claimants submitted their action by e-mail without the required signature. In this regard, the Court stated that the correct form had not been observed and the action was therefore inadmissible. This was not, however, apparent to a layman from the information on available remedies, since an express reference to the necessary signature was not included.
The litigation were informed that the action was not properly raised. The claimants thereafter submitted the action again with their signatures by fax. The Court argued that this was indeed the correct form, yet this was not done within the period prescribed. In comparable cases, the limitation period for filing an action often amounted to a month. The newly submitted action was thus also not per say admissible.
However, the Finance Court likely took the possibility of restitutio in integrum for granted, since the claimants would have re-submitted an action in valid form within a few days which could be viewed as an application within the period prescribed for restitutio in integrum. Moreover, it pointed to the possibility granted by the Rhineland-Palatinate Financial Authority in similar appeals to lodge an objection by e-mail, which gave the impression to a layman that filing an action by e-mail is equally admissible.
From this case it becomes clear that in order to obviate problems, a lawyer should always be obtained.
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