A People’s Vote: Fake Words

I am highly suspicious when words are misused by politicians and those lobbying for something. The latest example is the us of the phrase of “a people” vote”. These fake words are used by many politicians seeking a second referendum on the UK’s previous referendum about the European Union. It is as though the previous referendum was not a vote by people. Continue reading

Nobody Knows

The Brexit nonsense drags on. There is now an argument in which some claim that the government should disclose the detailed legal advice it has received about the legal effect of the proposed future basis of the UK’s relationship with the UK. The demands for such disclosure are being made most strongly by politicians who implacably oppose the “deal” so there seems little point in disclosing the advice.

Nevertheless, we must bear in mind another point. The whole of law is founded on the principle that nobody knows; Continue reading

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers

When Jack Cade in Shakespeare’s Henry VI part 2 is offering his credentials as a King  to urge a rebellion against the King the policies Cade offers are very modest. Seven halfpenny loaves of bread will only cost a penny under his regime a three hooped pot (used for measuring how much each drinker should drink out of a common vessel) shall have ten hoops; it will be a felony to drink small beer, money will be abolished (so buying bread for a halfpenny would not be possible) and everyone will dress in one livery. Dick the Butcher one of Cade’s violent henchmen) offers that the first thing to be done is to kill all the lawyers, and Cade responds that he means to do that.

Cade never achieved power and every politician, whether democratically elected or whether a tyrant or autocrat has never killed all the lawyers but used them in exactly the same way that all people use lawyers – to further their own ends be it for good or for bad.

 

Civil Litigation

We need justice and people need to think that the legal system provides justice, more or less.

Last year at was assisting in a trial in Nuremberg in Germany. It was a strange experience for a lawyer you has for the past forty five years been practicing in a common law jurisdiction. Continue reading

Climate Change

I have not written an essay on these pages for many months but I have been shaken out of my indolence by being reminded from several quarters about the importance of designing and implementing strategies to cope with Climate Change. Continue reading

Avoiding Tax Avoidance

Tax is a taxing subject and designing fair taxes is problematical. There is plenty of tax avoidance around, but what is tax avoidance? A person who gives a sum of money to his or her child will hope to avoid Inheritance tax, if they survive seven years. Opening an ISA account avoids some income tax. Donating to a charity avoids some income tax in many circumstances. Tax avoidance is simply arranging your affairs to minimise tax liability within the law. Some claim that a taxpayer should act within the spirit of the law, but I find it hard to understand the spirit of the law as a general principle. What seems to me to be obvious is that tax should be fair.

Ordinary people have little chance of lawfully avoiding tax, and any tax they may avoid does not really amount to more than the proverbial hill of beans. The big tax avoiders are the multinational corporations.

They use some ways of avoiding tax that sound morally questionable. For example, large companies often arrange their affairs so as to pay small amounts of tax in a low tax jurisdiction, like Luxembourg, (that stalwart of the European Union)even though they earn large amounts of revenue in many high tax jurisdictions. Digital companies, like Apple, Facebook and Google have great expertise in doing this. Trading companies like Amazon and Starbucks also have expertise. For example, Google will pay £49.3 million in Corporation Tax to the UK government this year on a profit of £200 million, even though the value of its UK sales was nearly £6 billion. Many regard this state of affairs as unfair, and if taxes are to be imposed all taxpayers must feel that the tax system is fair.

In the UK Amazon records profits of just £34.4 million and paid £11.9 million in tax. It seems that Amazon does not pay all of its UK staff a living wage. Many of these staff will have their income from Amazon supplement by benefits collected from taxes paid by UK taxpayers, who in effect are subsiding Amazon through the benefits system. That does not sound fair.

The solution is to avoid the tax avoidance on these large multinational companies by imposing a digital tax and a turnover tax. If the value of Google’s UK presence only shows a profit of £200 million then there must be something wrong in the way that profit is defined for tax purposes, and if the definition of profit cannot be redefined without causing all kinds of adverse consequences then it is the duty of the government to look for other ways of collecting revenue, and the most obvious way is by imposing a turnover tax and a digital tax. If the government cannot end tax avoidance it should impose different taxes which avoid tax avoidance.

Honesty and Integrity

When I applied for admission to the roll of solicitors in 1974 it was a requirement that applicants be interviewed by a panel of the Law Society. At my interview I was asked what the two most important qualities were of a solicitor. I replied that I thought honesty and integrity were the most important qualities. The panel asked me what was the difference between honesty and integrity. Continue reading