Taking Stock: Unleash the (tax lawyer) hounds

SITTING THROUGH A DEBATE on legal professional privilege last night, Taking Stock couldn’t help thinking of Mr Burns’ famous line from The Simpsons: “Smithers, unleash the hounds,” while imagining Deloitte tax partner Bill Dodwell emerging from Burns’ mansion grounds bloodied, bruised and suit all a-tatter.

The debate – hosted by Pinsent Masons – began with Bill beset by a ‘murder’ of lawyers [really? Ed] who left the audience in no doubt about whether accountants should be treated in the same way as the legal profession in terms of providing privileged tax advice – the Supreme Court ruled against such a change earlier this year.

“Everyone wants to be a lawyer,” said one lawyer. “We’ve got Ally McBeal…[accountants] have got calculators in top pockets.”

Another QC found himself on the “horns of a dilemma”.

“I really don’t like accountants,” he admitted.

Bill could be forgiven for feeling outnumbered, though he did gamely fight back suggesting that his friends in the legal profession never “addressed the substance” of the issue. And to be fair Bill was hardly alone. He was joined by Mike Truman, editor of Taxation magazine, who capped the night off with a good old fashioned “rant”.

Jesting aside, TS was impressed by the quality of the panel, which included two QCs and Sir Stephen Oliver, while the debate was a nuanced and balanced one. Indeed, Jonathan Fisher QC, who quipped about not liking accountants, turned out to be the profession’s staunchest ally.

“I don’t buy the argument that the whole of the western world will collapse [if legal privilege is extended],” he said. “In the fullness of time the Supreme Court ruling will look out of touch with what is going on in the real world.”

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