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Is tax planning unethical?

5th October 2017

In light of the efforts by HMRC to increase the tax take, and in light of attempts by politicians to blur the boundaries between tax avoidance (permissible, if sometimes anti-social) and tax evasion (very naughty, criminal, dangerous, and downright greedy) I am reminded of the “shovel in the stores” judgment of Lord Clyde, Lord President of the Court of Session, which is still good law:

  “No man in this country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or to his property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel into his stores. The Inland Revenue is not slow—and quite rightly—to take every advantage which is open to it under the taxing statutes for the purpose of depleting the taxpayer’s pocket. And the taxpayer is, in like manner, entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue”.

Ayrshire Pullman Motor Services & Ritchie v CIR, 14 TC 754

Aren’t judges (sometimes) wonderful?


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