Lawyers paying tax

I’ve just been reading in Crikey about  new tax office project to do some data matching of buyers of luxury cars, against other information.

The article mentioned the previous lawyers project which found a large number of Barristers and Solicitors who had not lodged tax returns, and who in some cases resorted to bankruptcy to avoid their tax obligations.

This issue has come up every now and again – with some pretty lame excuses, like the lawyers in question being “too busy” to file tax returns.

These cases seem to pop up and then quietly fade away without answers to some obvious questions.

Questions like:

- Why does the tax office not follow up with a tax payer who has not lodged a return? Surely they will know when a return is 12 months overdue and can mail the person or their accountant?

- Everybody else has to lodge a tax return, even busy people. Why should excuses like being too busy even be raised? It’s just silly and should never come up in the first place. I assume these folks are not too busy to go spending all their lovely money.

- (the important one) – As I understand it, lawyers (once admitted to the bar) are officers of the court. This is not something that can be switched off out of hours, it’s forever (or until struck off). As officers of the court they must be beyond reproach. This means, in lay terms, squeaky-damn-clean in everything they do. Breaking the law by non-payment of taxes SHOULD in my view lead to being AUTOMATICALLY struck off, or de-barring, or whatever the term is. In other words, removal of the right to practice in the legal profession. It should of course be proved in court so there is a measure of natural justice, but is this the outcome? We don’t seem to hear about it, so I’ve no idea.

I suspect part of the reason that middle Australia holds lawyers in some contempt is that there is a great deal of publicity about lawyers who break the law, but very little publicity about the eventual outcome. It creates the perception, rightly or wrongly, that there is one law for all of us common muck, and another law for thems who are in the club.

I’d love some comments about the outcome of the lawyers tax cases – I really want to know what eventually happensd to those who were found guilty of non-lodgement of returns and non-payment of tax.

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