You don’t have to be legal to be privileged

THE Supreme Court has agreed to hear the claim that accountants should be just as entitled to legal privilege as lawyers.

The news came yesterday and renews hopes that accountants will shortly be on an equal footing with lawyers when offering tax advice.

Interesting that this should be happening at the same time as Australia is about to enter into another round of thinking about privilege and tax advice.

Back in 2007-2008 the Australian Law Reform Commission had a look at this and concluded that no one should be coerced to give up tax advice documents as long as they were created by a ‘professional accounting adviser’. And that was defined as a registered ‘tax agent’.

The Australian financial services minister has now released a fresh discussion paper on extending privilege making it look quite likely that accountants Down Under are not far from coming on terms with their legal colleagues.

Interestingly, the original discussion grew out of a debate about protection individuals should have when dealing with Australian regulators which have particularly aggressive powers for investigation.

This is worth bearing in mind in the UK as HMRC becomes increasingly bold in its pursuit of tax revenues.

The Australian process is unlikely to affect what happens in the UK, but what a strange outcome it would be if Canberra decided to support accountants and the UK did not.

It could well be worth following both arguments.

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