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Service was very rewarding

22 November 2013

Auckland tax lawyer Casey Plunket found his almost a decade of service at the helm of the Law Society’s Tax Law Committee “very rewarding,” he says.

Mr Plunket has stepped down as the committee’s convenor after more than eight years in the role.

He has really enjoyed working with people, not only on the Tax Law Committee, but on other committees as well.

One example was dealing with the Human Rights and Privacy Committee on the question of whether the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) should be able to share information with other Departments in relation to criminal investigations.

Human Rights and Privacy Committee convenor Andrew Butler made a very good submission on that matter, assisted by the Tax Law Committee. “And that’s important stuff,” Mr Plunket says. “There are real issues there, in terms of the privilege against self-incrimination for example.”

Lots of people on the Tax Law Committee had done a great job, in terms of putting time and effort into writing and inputting into submissions. And they had been kept very busy given the frequency with which IRD had put out discussion documents and papers, as well as the various bills relating to taxation.

Mr Plunket lists a number of highlights of his time as convenor. One was “making sure that we [lawyers] kept solicitor-client privilege in tax matters”. In a discussion document, IRD proposed taking privilege away from lawyers on tax matters. Following submissions, however, rather than ending up with removal of lawyers’ privilege, accountants were given qualified privilege for tax advice.

Another highlight was liaising with IRD and “doing quite a big job” on trying to get the disputes process working better than it was. The Law Society was involved with the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants on that project “which bore some fruit”. Although the new disputes rules have some problems, they generally are an improvement.

Although it was not part of his role as committee convenor, Mr Plunket also says one highlight of his time in the position was his involvement with the tax conferences run by NZLS CLE Ltd. “They were always enjoyable.”

A fourth highlight was “the privilege of going along and representing the Law Society at the select committee hearings. That was always a big deal.”

The committee, he says, has made a “very significant contribution” to getting the law right over the years.

People in government often have great ideas about taxation, but putting them into law is often not easy. “I don’t think the government does a good job of working out how best to write the law about taxation.

“I don’t think they put enough resources into getting the law right and making it easy to understand. I think that is a really valuable service that we (the Law Society and the Tax Law Committee) perform.

“I can’t tell you the number of times we have stopped things going through that were just nonsensical.”

The years of experience represented on the committee, Mr Plunket says, means that in many cases it has a deeper understanding of tax law than either the government or the legislation drafters. As a result, “we contribute to getting the law right in a very significant way I think.

“It is really important to get someone who can look at the proposed legislation not in a self-interested way but from a purely technical perspective.”

The focus needs to be on the actual words that are written down in the legislation, not what the Government meant to say or what IRD’s systems can cope with.

One area where Mr Plunket feels the committee was less successful was influencing the relationship between Crown Law and IRD.

“I’ve heard a lot of constitutional cant in this area,” he says, “but have yet to be convinced that from a public policy perspective, there is any reason for the IRD/Crown Law relationship to be much different from the usual client/barrister relationship, other than Crown Law having a role in reining in the IRD where its actions are unconstitutional. Certainly Crown Law should not be taking positions in litigation that IRD does not adopt in practice.”

Mr Plunket has lectured in taxation at both Auckland and Sydney universities and is a co-author of Income Tax in New Zealand (Brookers 2004).

He became a member of the Tax Law Committee on 7 April 2004, and was convenor from March 2005 to August this year.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016