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One minute with... Owain Thomas QC

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What’s keeping you busy at work? 
Currently I am focused on some interesting judicial review cases concerning customs decisions to seek payment of duty outside the normal three year cap, cases concerning the scope of the payment services exemption, a case about an educational tuition agency and the ongoing CJEU cases of Mercedes Benz (Case C-164/16) and Volkswagen Financial Services [2017] UKSC 26.
If you could make one change to a tax law or practice, what would it be? 
I think the main challenge in tax law is the need for greater simplicity. The exemptions and reliefs from tax particularly in the field of VAT are so numerous and complex that they provide a minefield for probably needless litigation.
What attracted you to the Tax Bar? 
I have always enjoyed the purely legal challenges of tax law. I have a broad practice in professional negligence and judicial review and tax law provides me with an opportunity to ensure that my skills in statutory construction and digesting large numbers of cases are honed and up to date. The variety of different interpretive tools and principles in tax presents a continuing challenge.
What advice would you give someone starting their career in tax?
I would say go for it. It will present opportunities to act both for HMRC and for taxpayers and it is an intellectually fulfilling career. For someone like me who is first and foremost an advocate, there are many opportunities in contested litigation for advocacy at all levels.
Is there a recent tax case that has caught your eye?
I recently represented a woodland trust against HMRC in the First-tier Tribunal (Will Woodlands v HMRC [2017] UKFTT 578 (TC)). The case considers the implications of the wide definition of what counts as economic activity for VAT purposes and the entitlements of charities to deduct their input tax. There are some signs that the domestic law has not quite caught up with the wide approach taken by the CJEU, and some recent cases have marked a shift in this area which has real practical effects for those whose business are not wholly commercial.
Finally, you might not know this about me but…
To compensate for what others might consider the dry nature of tax, my passions in life are the arts, particularly music. I have a real fondness for massive 19th century novels: English, French and Russian and 19th century Italian opera. I have absolutely no law related hobbies at all. 
Issue: 1373
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