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One minute with… Valentina Sloane QC

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What’s keeping you busy at work?

Gambling, holidays, cars and cosmetics. That’s not a list of my internet browsing – they are all industries where I am currently involved in VAT litigation. The cases raise issues such as the test for fiscal neutrality and whether an entity is acting as agent or principal.

Has a recent tax case caught your eye?

The very recent decisions in FMX v HMRC [2020] UKSC 1 in the Supreme Court and Renesola v HMRC [2020] UKUT 60 (TCC) in the Upper Tribunal are both interesting on legal principles relating to customs and anti-dumping duties. Litigation on customs duties and anti-litigation duties has been creeping up in volume and profile in recent years and is likely to be a prominent feature of the post-Brexit legal landscape.

What attracted you to the tax bar?

Twenty years ago, I was brought into my first ever VAT case with Paul Lasok QC and Amanda Brown from KPMG. Christopher Vajda QC (subsequently the UK judge in Luxembourg) was leading the other side. We had a three-week trial, which combined demanding legal analysis, intensive teamwork, some fairly heated cross-examination exchanges and surprisingly passionate advocacy. The tribunal referred the case to Europe, where the court went off piste and determined the case on a completely different basis from the issues we had been arguing about for three weeks. That had me hooked, and I’ve enjoyed the intellectual challenges, advocacy opportunities and the odd curveball from the courts ever since.

If you could make one change to a tax law or practice, what would it be?

Our decrepit system of VAT is not fit for purpose in a world of international online sales. If I could wave a magic wand, I would have a global VAT law on taxation at the place of consumption, which would have to be accompanied by a simple administrative method of accounting for VAT in the appropriate jurisdiction. KrakVet Marek Batko (Case C-276/18) on distance selling is just one illustration of the complexities currently faced by online sellers in a system based on piecemeal changes, exemptions and rules which entail qualitative assessments. The effect of the advocate general’s proposal is that the place of supply of distance sales would depend upon whether the supplier, rather than the customer, ‘effectively’ takes the decision governing how those goods are to be dispatched or transported. That sort of qualitative assessment would be detrimental to legal certainty and lead to real difficulties both for economic operators and member states in trying to apply VAT. The forthcoming judgment from the CJEU will be an important test for how VAT law addresses legal certainty and will have widespread repercussions for online retailers.

Looking back on your career to date, what advice would you give to others?

Tax law is not a soft option, but it is excellent for combining a demanding, intellectually challenging career with life outside work. Hearings are typically short and scheduled long in advance. Urgent applications are rare. I recommend a career in tax law for anyone looking for intellectual stimulation and a work/life balance. I have also benefited from inspiring role models who have shown how to excel in a tax career, in their differing styles and on their own terms: Dame Philippa Whipple, Melanie Hall QC and Nicola Shaw QC all immediately come to mind. Find people who inspire you, but don’t be afraid to practise on your own terms.

Are there any new rules that are causing a particular problem?

Just wait until the end of the year and there will be a raft of new legislation on VAT, customs duties and anti-dumping duties, which will cause uncertainty and problems as we give effect to the withdrawal from the EU.

You might not know this about me...

I appear in Three men and a little lady, a 1990s film with Ted Danson, Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Fiona Shaw. I acted a schoolgirl eating lunch in the convent dining room. The scene took ages to film and I had to eat cold, revolting fish pie in every take. Despite outward appearances, tax law is far more glamorous than the movies.

Issue: 1480
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