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One minute with... Nikhil Mehta

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What’s keeping you busy at work?
A good mix of UK and Indian work. On the Indian side, I am advising offshore investment funds on getting into the Indian distressed debt market, which I suppose is a sign of the times. On the UK side, it’s corporate or private client tax and sometimes both together on the same matter, particularly where entrepreneurs are involved. With my City background in corporate tax, I learnt quite early at the Bar that you can’t ignore private client issues when advising entrepreneurs on new business structures. I also act for Indian non-doms who have their own separate menu of issues. Recent work has included looking at using an English LLP for EU-based individuals; nice to know that Brexit doesn’t get in the way. I also enjoy intangibles taxation and have just finished a matter which involved some complicated questions surrounding the meaning of goodwill.
If you could make one change to tax law anywhere in the world, what would it be?
A ban on retrospective legislation. It has become notorious in Indian taxation following the famous Vodafone decision. We need an international standard banning it. I know that will never happen, not least because it will be hard to agree a definition of what counts as retrospective. But it’s a nice thought. More generally, the pendulum has swung too much in the way of the tax authorities with automatic information exchange, more countries introducing general anti-avoidance rules and the expansion of the territorial tax base. I get a sense that the balance needs redressing so that taxpayers’ rights do not get forgotten in the newly found zeal of tax authorities flexing their enlarged muscles.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
Yes, that doing different things in a tax career including working for the Revenue, working abroad and working on both sides of the legal profession is wonderful experience, even if it means you lose out a little on the timing of career milestones like achieving partnership. So, I’m all for variety in a tax career and encourage it, although there are more opportunities for accountants and solicitors than for barristers.
Do you feel that the practice of tax law has changed since you first started?
Very much so. When I started in the City, tax solicitors were regarded by their corporate colleagues as those weird boffins who should be kept in the laboratory and on no account unleashed on clients. That has changed dramatically and a tax lawyer is now as much front of house as any corporate or finance lawyer. I also remember being told that on no account should you get involved in making a commercial decision for a client. But nowadays it is quite common to have to deal with the client asking (in some shape or form): ‘If you were me, what would you do?’ Some of this has to do with reputational risk, but a lot also has to do with trust. At the Bar, tax risk management has become a strong part of the practice, just as it is with tax accountants and solicitors. Although we don’t of course handle compliance, it is interesting how often one gets asked to settle the wording of disclosures in tax computations after being consulted on some substantive issue or other. 
What attracted you to the Tax Bar? 
My uncle was one of India’s two leading tax advocates and my father (who switched from medicine to law at the young age of 45) was in the same chambers in Mumbai. I wanted to join them on qualification and they gave me a choice: tax or tax! This meant that I read revenue law as an option in my last year of university, and I remember my peers saying how difficult it would be. I thought I would need to force myself to get through it, like swallowing cod liver oil; I was pleasantly surprised to discover the complete opposite. 
Issue: 1406
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