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One minute with ... John Overs

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What attracted you to tax?

I became interested in tax while studying law at university because the tax cases had the most interesting technical detail.

The best piece of professional advice you’ve been given?

To make sure you read the legislation very carefully. Look at each word and give it proper weight. And when you’ve done that, make sure you read the section before and the section afterwards even if they might appear not to be relevant.

What’s the biggest practical problem you face in your role?

Juggling management responsibilities with fee earning, which I do sometimes chaotically but helped by an excellent team around me.

How do you see the BLP’s tax team progressing over the next few years?

We already have a widely diversified team, corporate tax, contentious, VAT and personal tax and trust. I can see us adding to some of those areas with some new specialisms – which I’m keeping under wraps – when the time is right.

Who in tax do you most admire?

Neil Sinclair, retired Senior Partner at BLP, for whom I worked at an early stage in my career advising on both corporate law and tax. He had the never-failing ability to go straight to the heart of any problem in seconds, and was a never-ending source of new ideas and angles to take to solve problems.

Where do you stand on the proposed GAAR?

I think the GAAR as proposed over time will create not only a new set of issues that will require litigation but also, notwithstanding the best intentions of Graham Aaronson’s committee, will suffer from mission-creep.

If you could make one change to the UK tax law, what would it be?

Go back to an equalisation of income tax and capital gains tax rates, which will facilitate a substantial simplification of the system.

What has HMRC got right?

I think the initiatives over the last five or ten years to establish closer and better working relationships with corporates has been a very astute move. The internal reorganisation following the merger of the Revenue and Customs has also created a more coherent response to problems of tax administration.

What, if anything, could HMRC do better?

HMRC could ensure that the large business teams have increased expertise and refer fewer problems to head office teams.

What is the most significant tax case in recent years?

I think it has to be Ramsay, which probably everyone says. It was a surprise at the time and, aside from generating a very large number of difficult and sometimes inconsistent decisions, it has created substantial uncertainty in some areas and has vastly contributed to the development of the longest and most complex tax code in the world.

You might not know this but at heart ...

... I would rather have been a proficient jazz musician able to earn enough money to maintain my family. 

Issue: 1108
Categories: One minute with