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One minute with... Jern-Fei Ng

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Congratulations on becoming a QC. What attracted you to the Tax Bar?
 
I started with a fairly broad commercial practice which reflected the work profile of most junior barristers at Essex Court Chambers. However, I didn’t want to become a typical commercial junior and wanted to broaden the areas in which I practise. In particular, I was keen to work in an area that offered more opportunities to do my own advocacy which I wouldn’t otherwise have had if I had pursued a more conventional commercial practice. It was against this backdrop that I became introduced to contentious indirect tax work. 
 
Notwithstanding that I did not have a standard tax practice, the work I did in the commercial disputes sphere helped in fact to enhance my indirect tax practice in certain respects, in that I not only had a good grasp of not only the principles of tax law but also of the underlying commercial transactions whose tax consequences are what is in dispute.   
 
Who has been the biggest influence on your career to date?
 
There are many who have had a considerable influence on my career over the years but of those there is one in particular who influenced my practice as an advocate the most: Roderick Cordara QC. Roderick taught me everything I know about tax and he was the one who encouraged me to give it a try in the first place. I have tried over the years to learn from him the art of persuading your tribunal by winning them over by charm and good humour, rather than through channelling your client’s anger through your advocacy, which is never as effective. 
 
What is the tax case that you are most proud of?
 
There are many of which I am proud but the one I am proudest of is RBS Deutschland Holdings GmbH (Case C-277/09) [2011] STC 345. This was the very first tax case I ever took on as a barrister, involving an alleged abuse of right in respect of the recovery of input tax. It ultimately led to me appearing in the CJEU many years later in what became my first solo appearance (and win) in Luxembourg, with five member states (including the UK).  
 
Looking back on your career to date, what advice would you give to others?
 
First, be brave. There have been times over the years, especially when I was first starting out, when I have had to advance seemingly impossible propositions or have had to stand up to difficult judges or mean-spirited opponents. Second, be versatile. Don’t always necessarily stick to the same tried and tested of doing things. It may sound a bit clichéd, but I have found it important to think out of the box and to find new and different ways to achieve a good result for a client.
 
You might not know this about me...
 
I almost never became a barrister. In fact, I didn’t even apply for pupillage before commencing the Bar Vocational Course (now known as the BPTC) in 2001. I did not grow up in the UK and was educated in a state school in Malaysia and came from a background that was not, back in the day, considered orthodox for aspiring barristers. The thought about becoming a barrister thus never even crossed my mind. I did not think I would ‘fit’ and that was also the advice I was receiving from many whom I spoke to. Thankfully, I decided to be brave (see above) and apply for pupillage in spite of all of that and am glad that I did so. The fact that I have the pleasure of now doing this interview is proof that nothing is impossible if you put your heart and mind into it. 
 
Issue: 1394
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