Labour eyes privilege reform to hit tax avoidance “enablers”

McDonnell: Plan will spark huge debate

The Labour Party will look at the role of privilege in hindering the criminal prosecution of professionals advising on tax avoidance, shadow chancellor has said.

John McDonnell said he wanted to strengthen the sanctions for those who facilitate it.

In an interview with The Sunday Times yesterday, Mr McDonnell said he was drawing up plans for Labour’s manifesto against the “enablers” of tax avoidance, including the big accountancy firms.

“It’s about ensuring that where we find that they are enabling tax avoidance that they pay for it,” he said, telling the paper the sanctions for schemes that exploit loopholes in the tax laws “still aren’t great enough”.

The paper said Mr McDonnell wanted to see “bigger fines” for “people who devise and promote and sell” these schemes, but also “toughening the existing criminal offence of facilitating tax evasion”.

This meant going to prison: “You can already take criminal sanctions against them but we want to review that because people think they are not severe enough.”

This meant looking at the confidentiality rules between clients and their advisers.

“There’s been the use by some of an argument around professional privilege to prevent them being open and transparent about the advice and activities they are undertaking,” Mr McDonnell told the paper.

“We want to have a reform of the concept of professional privilege for these firms and individuals to prevent them becoming enablers.”

He acknowledged that this would spark “a huge debate”, but continued: “If you were advising someone how to burgle a house, you wouldn’t be able to use professional privilege, would you?”

Mr McDonnell said he also wanted to change the people writing the tax laws. “Part of the problem with regard to HMRC [HM Revenue & Customs] is that a lot of the advisory groups they have, the people who sit on them, are from the very accountancy firms that then go off and advise on how to avoid the tax that they are designing. We need a supervisory board for HMRC.”

Leave a Comment

By clicking Submit you consent to Legal Futures storing your personal data and confirm you have read our Privacy Policy and section 5 of our Terms & Conditions which deals with user-generated content. All comments will be moderated before posting.

Required fields are marked *
Email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Success in-house – what people don’t tell you about how to get there

TV dramas have made many people think that the legal profession consists of heroes (or villains) in high-flying firms or public prosecution. In reality, nearly a quarter of solicitors work in-house.

The ‘soft landing’ growth strategy for law firms

Increasing demand for ‘hot’ areas of law inspires opportunist law firms to hire more specialists to add to their firepower – the right people at the right time. Yet this is a big ask.

The changing landscape of legal education and online learning

Learning has come a long way since I qualified. There’s a lot more knowledge available about how students learn and how different students learn differently. It’s not one-size-fits-all anymore.

Loading animation