How do you sleep at night? | AccountingWEB

How do you sleep at night?

It occurred to me a while ago that, as a tax advisor, I am effectively making sure the country has as little money as possible by finding the loose threads of the tax legislation and pulling at them.  Therefore every time a crime happens and there were too few police to stop it, I contributed to that.  The same applies for people dying in hospital.

But then I read an interview with a lawyer who represented many, for want of a better word, 'guilty' people who, nethertheless and with his help, got off scott free due to technicalities.  He was asked how he slept knowing he had put murderers back on the streets and he replied that his role wasn't to make sure people got what they deserved, it was to make sure the law was applied to them, warts and all.

So I cope with my guilt in the same way, the (tax) law is the law, but if it has holes in it then our clients deserve to use them.

Democratus's picture

It's not what is collected

Democratus | | Permalink


Don't worry, the true moral dilema rests with those who collect it, or rather those who are responsible for spending your hard earned money, and that of your clients.

There is a shameful waste of public monies, by all parties irrespective of colour, though some are more spendthrift than others.

Proper accountability would lead to better spending decisions and less demand for taxes in the long run.

Anyway - I don't do tax so I sleep very well thank you.


ShirleyM's picture

I have heard similar talk

ShirleyM | | Permalink

In that it is the 'winning' that is important, and if a criminal gets off on a technicality, or because of a very minor mistake in procedure, then it is the fault of the law, or the police officer that made the mistake. Common sense doesn't seem to prevail in our Courts of Justice. It would be wonderful if there were some foolproof way of determining the guilty, but there isn't.

I really don't think you can put tax avoidance on the same level as assisting murderers escape justice though.

But I suppose it is like all other careers. If I successfully defended someone I knew to be guilty I would suffer from an awful conscience and not be able to sleep at night. But likewise with the teams in hospitals, I couldn't cope with the trauma of dealing with the seriously injured (attempted murder victims?) or sleep well, knowing that someone had died who could have been saved.


johnjenkins's picture

The Government

johnjenkins | | Permalink

would never have enough money to cure all ills and stop all crime. Although the world collectively could do a lot more to make life existance a lot better. Unfortunately while a lot of countries are still busy with the "pecking order" taxes that should go on positive things tend to get wasted.

Old Greying Accountant's picture

People who break the law ...    1 thanks

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... are not your responsibility.

If they didn't break the law there would be more money to spend on healthcare and medicine.

As Democratus says, the bigger problem is the wastage of money, like the billions spent of the now scrapped NHS computer system!

Getting back to the question posed, I read for about 15 minutes, turn off the light and next thing the alarm is waking me in the morning. If you mean technically, it is in the recovery position on the right hand side of the bed facing outwards.



davidwinch's picture

Criminal defence work    1 thanks

davidwinch | | Permalink

Most of the work I do is forensic accountancy on the instructions of solicitors acting for defendants (often, in confiscation cases, convicted defendants) in criminal cases.

My role is to act in the interests of justice and that includes the defence putting the best case it can within the rules.

Our criminal justice system is an adversarial one.  In court the prosecutors fight for a conviction, the defence fight for an acquittal, the judge ensures that both sides play by the rules (as far as he can).

If the prosecutors are unable to get a conviction then the defendant is acquitted. So, many lawyers would say, there is no such thing as 'getting off on a technicality' - there is conviction and there is non-conviction.

The defendant is entitled in our system to 'put the prosecution to proof' in other words (without denying he did the act complained of) requiring the prosecution to prove their case.  If they fail to do so he is acquitted.

It's called innocent until proven guilty.

Think very hard before abandoning that philosophy.

Of course I don't know (and I am not going to guess) whether the defendant actually did what the prosecution allege.  I need to keep an open mind on that (otherwise I am taking on the role of the jury rather than being a witness).

But if courts were instead places where all parties strove to find the truth they would have to operate very differently!


P.S. How do I sleep?  Like a log.

Democratus's picture

@ David

Democratus | | Permalink

Interesting to note that you have to work to a criminal standard where the burden of proof is greater for the prosecution rather than for the defendant.

I wonder what others think about this standard in such, shall we say "white collar" or financial crimes as opposed to TWOC or murder 1 cases. Should it be at the civil level in such cases?

You seem to have a very interesting career amd work environment, I am imagining something between LA law and The Office,a bit of CIS thrown in, with a touch of Perry Mason on the side, not to mention all the attractive young people with too white teeth and perfect hair, smart casual clothing and sunglasses worn indoors.

 Don't tell me if I'm wrong

davidwinch's picture

Actually    2 thanks

davidwinch | | Permalink

Actually it's more of a cross between Ashes to Ashes and Waking the Dead with a bit of Damages thrown in (and if you believe that you'll believe anything!).

In the confiscation work (which is a lot of what I do) you have crossed a threshold in that the defendant has already been convicted and the burden is then generally upon him to prove (on the balance of probabilities) that his income / assets were obtained legitimately.


Lord Lucan's picture

Subtle differences

Lord Lucan | | Permalink

Our system requires the prosecution to prove guilt, not the accused to prove innocence. This is how it should be as any other system would only lead to more innocent people being imprisoned.

As the Knox case currently in the news shows, it's very easy to accuse someone on the basis of dubious evidence.  Even with the burden of proof placed on the prosecution it's quite frightening how many innocent people have been wrongly convicted over the years.

As regards lawyers "getting off" guilty defendants. Again, isnt it better that some guilty people go free, rather than have one innocent person wrongly convicted?  And it's very easy to know whether a defendant has admitted their guilt to their lawyer. In court their barrister will say "my client is innocent" (or words to that effect), but, if his client has admitted his guilt but insisted on pleading not guilty anyway and put the prosecution to the task of actually proving his guilt then the barrister will not say his client is innocent as that would be lyng to the court, instead he will refer to "the prosecution failing to prove his client guilty" (or words to that effect).

I don't feel guilty about clients paying less tax due to loopholes. The ones who should feel "guilty" are the people who drew up the laws and failed to close those loopholes.

As others have said, governments only waste taxpayers money anyway.





johnjenkins's picture

I do believe

johnjenkins | | Permalink

that in court the defendant doesn't even have to mount a case. they can solely rely on the prosecution not being able to prove guilt.

davidwinch's picture

Not mounting a defence case

davidwinch | | Permalink

Technically John you are quite correct, the defence team can sit on their hands throughout the entire hearing and simply say to the jury at the end, "The prosecution evidence does not prove their case".

But in terms of the "theatre" of the courtroom that would leave the jury to do all the 'work' of testing the prosecution evidence in their minds.  It's a high risk strategy.

The defence may instead put up a defence saying, "The defendant was not in London on the night of the murder".  But it's much better if they can go on to say, "He was in Birmingham and here are some witnesses who saw him there".

But making those sort of tactical decisions - and knowing which questions NOT to ask - is what marks out a good court barrister!


johnjenkins's picture

But isn't

johnjenkins | | Permalink

thats what a jury is supposed to do. It's not up to the defendant to prove they were somewhere else, it's up to the prosecution to prove they were in London on the particular night. If there is any doubt at all then the prosecution have failed (assuming we are not talking about reasonable doubt).

davidwinch's picture

Yes, but . . .

davidwinch | | Permalink

Yes, but ultimately the jury will return a verdict of guilty or not guilty.  If the only evidence they hear is the evidence the prosecution put forward (and presumably believe will point towards the defendant's guilt) then have the defence maximised the prospects of an acquittal?

Well, if the defendant does not have a credible defence and would come across in the witness box as a lying toad then the defence's best option may be to sit tight and say nowt.  And they are entitled to do that.  And the jury are entitled to acquit on that basis.

But if you have a good defence, logic suggests you would improve your chances of acquittal by putting it forward.  Also if the defendant would come over as honest & likeable (and not be tripped up in cross-examination) then it would be sense to call him to give evidence.

Basically the defence want to make the jury uncomfortable with deciding the defendant is guilty and it is the barrister's job to decide how best to achieve that given the evidence and the personality of the defendant.  Think of it as a branch of salesmanship!


Lord Lucan's picture

Actual court exchanges -

Lord Lucan | | Permalink

Actual court exchanges - taken from "Disorder in the Court".


Q: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
A: No.
Q: Did you check for blood pressure?
A: No.
Q: Did you check for breathing?
A: No.
Q: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
A: No.
Q: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
A: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Q: But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?
A: It is possible that he could have been alive and practising law somewhere. 




Constantly Confused's picture

I'm sure...

Constantly Confused | | Permalink

... my topic wasn't about the legal process when it started... :)

Lord Lucan's picture

Yes you did

Lord Lucan | | Permalink

Constantly Confused wrote:

... my topic wasn't about the legal process when it started... :)



You made the comparison - and the concensus about tax seems to be that the government only wastes the tax it collects so why would anyone feel guilty about giving them les money to throw away on daft schemes and huge expenses payments.


Constantly Confused's picture

On the opposite side...

Constantly Confused | | Permalink

... I remember in my younger days running the July POA reminder list and then transposing how long the tax our clients paid each year (around £10m) would keep the Government going.

I think I decided it would let a hospital keep its lights on for a year or two :)

Monsoon's picture


Monsoon | | Permalink

Valium gives me a great night's sleep ;-)

The only thing that gives me sleepless nights is workload stress. I'm working on that. :)

Constantly Confused wrote:

It occurred to me a while ago that, as a tax advisor, I am effectively making sure the country has as little money as possible by finding the loose threads of the tax legislation and pulling at them.  Therefore every time a crime happens and there were too few police to stop it, I contributed to that.  The same applies for people dying in hospital.

Wow. That's intense. I don't have any problem with my job in that sense. I really don't think it's healthy for you to think like that. You are not in control of how the government uses tax money. Those things are not your fault. The government make the laws, we use the laws. If they lose out on tax money it's up to them to change the law, or live with it. We are not paid to make philanthropists out of our clients :)


dbowleracca's picture

In actual fact you don't actually save the person tax    1 thanks

dbowleracca | | Permalink

I sometimes used to think like you. But actually, you contribute much more to society.

If you save someone 50k in tax, then the likelihood is they will spend much of their savings which will inevitably have vat on it - and generate a profit for another business and pay wages for someone etc.

If we all just paid the tax that they wanted us to pay, it would get wasted and deter anyone from being successful.

Personally I love saving people tax - as much as possible within the law - because then they enjoy making more money and creating jobs etc - which is what this country needs. And they also pay you handsomely for your help!!

John McLane's picture

This is what I have always believed

John McLane | | Permalink

The lower the tax burden, the quicker money cycles, the more profits are made, the more people are employed (and therefore paying PAYE) etc, so, by helping someone pay less tax you have a good chance of actually increasing Treasury receipts on the one hand and reducing benefit payouts on the other - so win win all round and plenty of Zeeees.

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