Jolyon Maugham gets it horribly, horribly wrong

But if you do choose pragmatism over idealism, the one thing you absolutely positively have to do is deliver. And Britain hasn’t. Back in 2011, the UK signed the Swiss/UK tax cooperation agreement, which offered an opportunity for tax evaders with Swiss accounts to come clean without criminal sanction or heavy penalty. We predicted revenues of more than £5bn over six years. By now we would have expected to have received about £4bn but we’ve received a little over £1bn.

The HSBC files is another example. As the Guardian has reported, the UK received information on about 6,000 individuals and businesses and recovered tax and penalties of £135m. France and Spain – both with fewer billionaires than the UK – have recovered £188m from 3,000 and £220m also from 3,000 respectively. Closer analysis of the French figures reveals that its revenue authorities have yielded three times as much from bank accounts held by French residents as HMRC has from accounts held by UK residents. France is also prosecuting HSBC for money laundering offences.

Yep. Because of the non-dom thing.

There’s a goodly number of people who *must* have a foreign bank account in order *not* to owe tax on their non-UK sourced income. There’s also expats of course, but it’s not clear whether he’s talking, really, about citizens or residents here.

But given that non-dom system, David Gauke has pointed out that of the 6,000 individuals and businesses, this came down to some 3,600 individuals and of those 2,600 were compliant. There were only 1,000 who were tax evading.

And as a tax barrister Maugham both should and does know this. So he’s pandering by not pointing it out. And this is appalling:

And when it comes to prosecutions, we can’t ignore that winning tax evasion cases, as with much white collar crime, is incredibly difficult. The law and facts are just too complicated to get a jury over the line on beyond reasonable doubt. But the status quo – effectively of impunity for wealthy tax evaders – plainly isn’t good enough.

A government that was serious about tackling financial crime would change the law to enable specialist juries – or even abandon jury trials altogether. So increased pressure on tax havens, and enhanced sanctions for evaders, may be more aspirin than antibiotic, but it will help.

A barrister wants to abolish jury trial? Hang him with the straps from his own wig box.

23 thoughts on “Jolyon Maugham gets it horribly, horribly wrong”

  1. The most likely reason that a barrister would want to get rid of jury trials is if he, himself, isn’t very good at persuading juries.

    Which is kind of his job description, I’d have thought.

    Glad I wasn’t the only one who thought the article was appalling, but it was in The Guardian, after all.

  2. Plus, the penalty you could choose by remaining non-disclosed was really rather steep – 21-41% of the assets. Hardly “without sanction or heavy penalty”.

    Which is why most UK taxpayers (not Citizens – as a UK national resident in CH I was never even asked) were more than happy to point out that they were in compliance, or were more than happy to disclose and take the HMRC penalty.

    And if you have to have an overseas bank account, the Swiss banks are a pleasure to deal with in comparison to the omnishambles of British banks.

  3. Of all the areas where we might consider moving away from juries: tax! Really Jolyon? Is the coming election going to cause us all to lose perspective?

  4. As David Gawke explained it, the numbers make.perfect sense. To throw in irrelevances such as the number of billionaires is just silly. One to a gallery or one can be taken seriously. At different times one can do both; not at the same time though.

  5. Perhaps if juries can’t follow our tax law, the law needs changed, rather than the principle of trial by jury

  6. It’s bollocks to say juries.can’t follow these trials or that tax is too clicked. It’s been a combination of the standard of proof required in criminal cases as opposed to civil law and HMRC’S appalling inability to carry out criminal investigations and prosecute criminal cases.

  7. Bloke in North Dorset

    And as Tim has pointed out a number of times, HMRC is often unwilling to take the risk of prosecution, even in the civil courts where the burden of proof is lower, in case it loses and sets a precedent. As long as the rules are murky it always has a chance of getting something.

  8. So Much for Subtlety

    In the old days, any dispute over tax went to a committee of ordinary people. Just random upstanding subjects of Her Majesty pulled off the street. With a fair middle class bias I would expect. Whatever they said was binding.

    Frankly I cannot see what is wrong with this system at all. It was quick, it was cheap and the government did not get to decide what was acceptable or not.

    We don’t need fewer juries. We need more of them.

  9. actually where he is most wrong is because he is a barrister. The solution to a complex tax system is not to make it more complex, unless you earn your living from the complexity.. When you are in a hole it is usually best to stop digging.

  10. So he’s pandering to the public in his article about tax evasion, yet unable to explain the case to the same sort of person when it comes to sitting them in a jury… Well that is a funny thing!

  11. If tax evasion cases are hard to win, it’s because tax law is complex. The government are the only ones who can simplify it.

  12. If you were to pick a random person off the street and ask them about tax avoidance, they’d probably parrot something close to the Ritchie line. The man has his flaws, but he’s done a brilliant job of convincing the world that everyone is a filthy tax avoider.

    If you were to round up 12 such people to be a jury to a tax avoidance trial, chances are they would be convinced on day 1 that the rich bastard did indeed avoid tax.

    So Jolyon’s explanation – that silver-tongued lawyers confuse them – doesn’t make sense.

    If they think the rich bastard did it, no amount of silvery-tonguedness will convince them otherwise. In fact, it’ll probably only entrench their views. More plausible is the suggestion that, if you only take the time to explain the complexities of the situation, people realise what looks on first instance like tax avoidance in fact isn’t.

    In that view of the world, throwing out juries would be an absolute travesty of justice. I’m amazed that anyone could suggest such a thing. Let alone a lawyer. And it tells us that tax campaigners have been oversimplifying things for too long.

  13. @ So Much for Subtlety February 13, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Frankly I cannot see what is wrong with this system at all. It was quick, it was cheap and the government did not get to decide what was acceptable or not.

    Therein lies the problem. Our beloved government (OBG™) does not want its livestock deciding things for themselves, and especially not contrary to the wishes of OBG™. It wants to decide everything for everyone save those superior beings who will do the deciding.

    Juries, like everything else that was good about the English system and had worked for a thousand years are not the European way. Ve must kompli.


  14. The problem is this bit: “We predicted revenues of more than £5bn over six years. By now we would have expected to have received about £4bn but we’ve received a little over £1bn.”

    Bullshit expectations not being met is hardly a problem that requires the law to be changed.

  15. Christy

    I agree, except we must take care to write that in criminal cases the prosecution is trying to show there has been EVASION not avoidance. And they must show that it was quite deliberate, that the defendant KNEW the tax was due.

    It is the level of proof, not the jury’s ignorance or other limitations as perceived by the legal profession, that provides the difficulty.

  16. Studies have been made of juries and questions have been asked of judges and lawyers with jury trial experience. So far as I know, there is no evidence that (1) juries can’t cope with long and complex cases or that (2) they don’t come to the ‘correct’ decision based on the evidence before them.

  17. Plus, the penalty you could choose by remaining non-disclosed was really rather steep

    In France there is a penalty of 1,500 Euro for each and any bank account in the household (including kid’s savings accounts) undeclared on your income tax form. This rises to a maximum of 10,000 Euros if the account is in a tax haven. This is before they’ve gotten around to looking at what the accounts contain.

  18. Speaking as one of the plebs, the problem might be that faced with somebody called Jolyon Maugham, I would instantly consider them so supect that I’d just go with the other guy. Chances are though of course the other lawyer would probably be his wife Cressida Torking-Downe or Lucinda Wyndde-Turbyne, or something.

  19. And everyone “progressive” seems to want to end jury trial; which is of course the best evidence for its utility as a system.

  20. In theory, any conclusion reached by a jury is by definition the correct one.

    The only material exception to this that I can think of concerns inconsistent verdicts as between multiple counts where, for instance, it would make sense to convict on count 2 only if you convict also on count 1, or where it makes sense to convict on count 2 only after acquitting on a mutually exclusive count 1.

    But even then, it might be said the jury is in its way doing justice in the given case.

    SE, I don’t know which lawyers you know, but I’m a big fan jury nullification.

    “Jolyon Maugham” – it’s remarkable to reflect on the extent to which the history of the British Left over the last fifty or so years is encompassed in that name.

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