THE NEWS SOUTH Wales Law Society has spoken out against solicitors evading their tax obligations following media reports and parliamentary revelations that members of the profession have failed to lodge tax returns.
The House of Representatives recently heard that the legal profession has for too long been “rorting” the taxation system and failing to comply with the law. The Australian Labor Party’s member for Lowe, John Murphy MP, said he had for the past three and a half years tried to bring to account those members of the legal profession, Lawyers Weekly reported last week.
The financial year 2002-03 revealed that 36 per cent of barristers and 28 per cent of solicitors were not up tot date with their tax returns.
New South Wales Law Society president John McIntyre said the issue of compliance with tax obligations is one the Law Society has always taken seriously. “The NSW Law Society has been at the forefront of moves to improve the tax compliance of members of the legal profession for many years,” he said.
Solicitors in New South Wales has for some time been required to disclose tax convictions to the Law Society and to show cause why they remain fit and proper to continue in practice.
“This level of disclosure and accountability on solicitors with regard to tax matters goes far beyond the requirements that apply in most other states. In 2003-04, compulsory disclosures made by solicitors in NSW indicated that the number prosecuted for late lodgement of tax returns was less than 30 out of 20,000 solicitors in this state,” he said.
McIntyre said disclosure of tax offences was introduced in NSW because the Australian Tax Office (ATO) refused to provide information to the Law Society that would allow it to take action against solicitors who failed to meet their tax obligations.
“The stark contrast between what we know of our members’ tax compliance record and what is reported suggests that the ATO’s numbers [in media reports] do not tell the whole story,” McIntyre said.