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‘Labyrinthine’ Complexity of Import Duty Rules Criticised

The Court of Appeal has criticised the ‘extraordinarily labyrinthine quality’ of import duty regulations in ‘reluctantly’ concluding that a mastectomy bra is an article of clothing, not an orthopaedic appliance, and is thus subject to 6.5 per cent duty.

The bra was designed to hold in place a synthetic ‘breast form’ worn by women who had undergone breast removal. Its importers argued that it should be classified as a duty-free ‘accessory’ to the breast form and an orthopaedic appliance.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) disputed those claims and the finely balanced debate led to directly conflicting decisions from the First-tier and Upper Tribunals. The latter ultimately ruled in the importers’ favour on the basis that the bra provided essential support for the breast form and was thus itself ‘an artificial body part’.

In ruling on the dispute, the Court noted that all involved had been greatly taxed by the extreme complexity of the underlying regulations. As a matter of simple common sense it seemed obvious that the bra was an accessory designed to hold in place the breast form, preventing it from sliding down the body.

However, in allowing HMRC’s appeal, the Court reluctantly found that, on a correct analysis of the regulations and relevant authority, the bra could neither be classified as an accessory to the breast form nor an orthopaedic appliance in its own right.