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One minute with...Nicola Shaw

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What’s in your in-tray?
 
The vast majority of my practice concerns tax litigation, but within that that there is a huge variety and I am often working on a number of different cases at any given time. At the moment I’m working on a couple of judicial reviews, a transfer pricing case, some satellite litigation arising out of Secret Hotels2, a loan relationships scheme, three cases concerning tax residence and Volkswagen Financial Services, which is going to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year.
 
What attracted you to the Tax Bar?
 
The intellectual challenge of the law and the glamour of dressing up in a wig and gown. It is a great shame that the opportunity for donning my wig and gown is now restricted to appearances in the Admin Court, the Court of Appeal and at fancy dress parties!
 
What recent tax case caught your eye and why?
 
UBS AG and DB Group Services. The case concerned the taxation of restricted securities which had been issued to bank employees instead of awarding them cash bonuses. The reasoning of the Supreme Court was that the legislation in question had to be construed as being limited to restrictions on securities with a business or commercial purpose. It marks a return to the dark ages and leads to the absurd result that restricted securities awarded for tax avoidance purposes are taxable upon issue on their restricted value (as opposed to later, on their full unrestricted value, as Parliament intended). 
 
Your chambers profile mentions that you act as both poacher and gamekeeper. Which side typically has the most realistic expectations?
 
Each side should have ‘realistic expectations’ if well advised. Although HMRC purports to win 80% of all tax litigation, that does not necessarily mean that the taxpayers’ expectations were unrealistic. The ultimate outcome is often affected by a number of variables; for example, how the evidence plays out (in particular, whether the witnesses come up to proof), developments in the law and, I’m afraid to say, who the judge is.
 
If you could make one change to UK tax law or practice, what would it be? 
 
I would take the politics out of it. Tax is obviously a political issue but the interpretation of tax legislation ought to be a question of law, uninfluenced by political agenda. Regrettably, that is not the case, currently.
 
Comment on your role as chairman of the Revenue Bar Association.
 
I’m delighted to have been elected as the RBA’s first female chair. These are challenging times for tax practitioners, with the activities of taxpayers and their advisers being subjected to intense public scrutiny. Making sure the debate is balanced and well informed is a key challenge for us.
 
Looking back on your career to date, what key lesson have your learned?
 
It was the late, great Hugh McKay who taught me the importance of being yourself. It’s what makes you unique, sets you apart from your competitors and is the reason your clients choose to come to you. 
 
Aside from your immediate colleagues, who in tax do you most admire and why?  
 
Laurence Rabinowitz QC. Although not a pure tax practitioner, Laurie has led the vanguard in developing the law of restitution in respect of overpaid tax. He is a superb advocate with an extraordinary gift for reducing the most complex issues into simple, bite-sized propositions.
 
Finally, you might not know this about me but… 
 
I write screenplays in my spare time. Although I’ve won a few tax accolades in the course of my career, my real ambition is to win an Oscar for ‘best original script’.  
 
Issue: 1312
Categories: One minute with
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