OPINION – LEADER – Stop the panic over tax case

Few legal rulings have caused such alarm in the tax world as the case known only as Regina v W. A Crown Court ruling prohibiting the use of the defendant’s actual name only adds to the sense of confusion. Which is a pity, because in strict legal terms, most of the alarm is unnecessary.

Not only is the ruling not binding on any other court, it states nothing that was not already known.

In order to help end the confusion we are printing a legal commentary on the ruling, written by a QC and a senior barrister who represented one of the taxpayers in the case. As they outline on page 20, the Court of Appeal was asked to halt a tax fraud case on the grounds that the taxpayer had reached an agreement to pay the Revenue.

The appeal judges refused to halt the trial on a technicality which had nothing to do with that argument. But they then went on to say what they thought about the arguments advanced. Lawyers call this type of comment obiter dicta, which means it is not part of the judgment and cannot bind any other court.

It might have rested there had not the Attorney General then issued a statement referring to information sharing between the Revenue and the Crown Prosecution Service. Given the fears already surrounding the anti-avoidance drive, it was this statement that ignited the panic. Understandable as these fears certainly are, the profession’s view should be based on what the judges actually said.

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