When one public body sends documentation to another but the latter does not receive it

Miguel Cremades.

25/01/2022 Uría Menéndez (uria.com)

A relatively unusual but legally significant event occurred recently. When resuming an inspection procedure, an administrative body claimed to have sent documentation to the tax inspectorate and the latter, in turn, claimed not to have received it. This directly affected the deadline for the inspection procedure and the statute of limitations.

The disagreement was not over whether the delivery in fact arrived, but rather over certain schedules that the sender claimed to have sent but which the recipient claimed did not arrive in the delivery. According to the inspectorate, without these schedules the procedure could not be considered to have been restarted.

This scenario raises some very interesting questions. The first is to which party the statutory presumption of the veracity of public documents should apply, the sending body –which assures it sent the schedules– or the receiving body –which says it did not receive them–. Another question is who bears the burden of proof and will be subject to the application of the “empty envelope” doctrine referred to in the ruling of the Spanish Supreme Court of 9 September 2011, appeal no. 6339/2007.

Or perhaps the issue does not even get to that point if one tries to reconcile both “truths” and adopts the interpretation that the documentation may have been sent complete but that part of it was lost before it was received. This approach is hard to sustain in the case of an envelope that is sealed on departure and opened on receipt, but it also raises a new question: who should be harmed by the “loss”, or rather who should not be harmed, the inspectorate –which must receive the complete report for the inspection procedure to be resumed– or the taxpayer –who is completely unaware of the loss–?

Finally, the assertions of each public body must be read carefully since the fact that the inspectorate accepts that in the entry register the documentation was logged as incomplete does not actually prove that it did not receive the complete documentation in the envelope, as it is precisely in the process of opening the envelope and transferring it to the registry for inspection that some of its contents could have been misplaced.

This is not a simple matter, and it is one that the courts will have to resolve on appeal.

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