Tax and Tax Avoidance

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Michael Blackwell


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BSc in Accounting and Finance and LLB in Laws. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Available to second and third year LLB and BA Anthropology and Law students. It is also available as an outside option to second and third year students where regulations permit.

Course content

Taxation is a topic that has throughout history pervaded political debate and is encountered in every area of life. Taxation was one of the very first subjects to be taught at LSE. The teaching of tax law as an academic subject started at LSE, where it was introduced by Professor GSA Wheatcroft in 1957.

The syllabus is set out below, although there is some variation of topics selected from year to year, depending on the focus of current debate, and in the order of topics.

• The first term of the course begins by looking at the philosophical foundations of taxation: What gives the state the right to tax? As some authors have argued is all tax theft, or do we only have a moral right to out post-tax income? The remainder of the first term focuses on a technical legal approach to tax. Using a mixture of legislation and case law we assess liability to UK tax on (i) employment income; (ii) business income; and (iii) capital gains. The term concludes by looking at ‘international tax’, ie the liability to tax where an individual or company is potentially subject to the tax laws of several jurisdictions.

• The second term of the course focuses on tax avoidance looking at questions such as: What is tax avoidance and how does it differ from tax planning? What strategies do individuals and companies adopt to avoid tax? How do judges respond to tax avoidance through anti-avoidance doctrines and rules of interpretation and to what extent is that compatible with the judicial role? How effective can legislative responses to tax avoidance be and what are the limitations on such responses? In the global economy to what extent can one state unilaterally combat tax avoidance or can it only be fought with multilateral responses, such as the OECD’s BEPS project and the EU’s Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive? How have public attitudes to tax avoidance changed over time? Should corporations behave ‘responsibly’ and pay their fair share of taxes, or are they obliged to do whatever they can to maximize shareholder returns? To what extent does professional ethics inform accountants and lawyers who advise on tax avoidance?

On the LSE Taxation course, the approach to the subject includes a strong policy perspective. However, legal issues are still important. The UK tax code is long and complex. There are also many relevant cases that are required reading too. Accordingly, by taking this course you should develop the following skills and attributes (i) working with and analysing legislation; (ii) working with and analysing case law; (iii) research skills; (iv) communication skills; (v) professionalism.

Students taking this course should be prepared to use a variety of sources ranging from statute and case law to literature on public policy. The precise balance of materials used varies from topic to topic. All the readings set will be accessible and non-mathematical. NO COMPUTATION is required and no knowledge of any discipline other than law is required. The course is open to second and third year law students, and experience suggests that it is equally suitable for both years.


30 hours of seminars in the MT. 30 hours of seminars in the LT. 3 hours of seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to produce at least 2 formative assignments over the academic year.

Indicative reading

The principal book for the course is expected to be Lee, Revenue Law Principles and Practice (Bloombury Professional, 2017). Tiley and Loutzenhiser, Revenue Law (Hart Publishing, 2016) will also be referred to. These texts are supplemented by the other readings that will be set. The cases and readings are readily available electronically or in BLPES. Vouchers are available for students on the course to purchase of published copies of the tax legislation at a substantial discount. N.B.: most tax law textbooks are revised extensively on an annual basis, so do not buy an old one! For some interesting background reading the first five chapters of Tiley et al (2016) are useful. Also see M.C. Blackwell ‘Variation in the Outcomes of Tax Appeals Between Special Commissioners: An Empirical Study’ [2013] British Tax Review 154.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.

Selected 'Legislation' may be taken into the examination, with non-verbal markings only.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2017/18: 14

Average class size 2017/18: 14

Capped 2017/18: Yes (25)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills