LL4CP      Half Unit
Tax Avoidance

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Michael Blackwell (NAB 7.30)


This course is available on the LLM (extended part-time), LLM (full-time), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Columbia), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Hertie), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and NUS), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Sciences Po), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Tokyo), MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MPA in Social Impact, MSc in Law and Accounting, MSc in Regulation, Master of Public Administration and University of Pennsylvania Law School LLM Visiting Students. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course will provide a comprehensive overview of the phenomenon of tax avoidance and of the attempts by states to combat it: both unilaterally and multilaterally. Whilst using examples predominantly from the UK and USA the issues addressed by the course are general across many jurisdictions and so will be applicable to those with interests beyond the UK and USA. 

The course will be multi-disciplinary, in that the course will draw on accessible social-science literature.

Taxpayers have always sought to minimise their tax burden. However recent decades have witnessed a sharp rise in popular and governmental concern with tax shelters and other tax avoidance. Traditional strategies of tax avoidance have included postponement of taxes and tax arbitrage, in addition to attempting to exploit ‘loopholes’ through a formalist interpretation of legislation. In recent years the proliferation of complex financial instruments has increased the opportunities for such avoidance. Additionally, globalisation and the development of the digital economy have facilitated tax avoidance strategies of base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS). This rise in opportunities for tax avoidance has been accompanied by an increased public concern that individuals and companies pay their ‘fair share’ of taxation: which states have responded to both through unilateral and multilateral actions (including the OECD’s project on BEPS and the EU’s Anti Tax Avoidance Package).

Particular topics covered will include (i) defining avoidance; (ii) strategies of tax avoidance; (iii) statutory interpretation and judicial approaches to tax avoidance especially with reference to the UK and USA; (iv) General Anti-Abuse and Anti-Avoidance Rules and Specific and Targeted Anti-Avoidance Rules; (v) reporting rules and other policies to deter avoidance; (vi) the OECD response to BEPS; (vii) BEPS and the EU; and (viii) corporate social responsibility, professional ethics and public attitudes with regard tax avoidance.


20 hours of seminars in the LT.

There will be a Reading Week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students should submit a detailed essay plan and working bibliography for the assessed essay. All students are expected to contribute to a series of class and online exercises and act as either a presenter or discussant during seminars. 

Indicative reading

Dhammika Dharmapala, ‘What Do We Know about Base Erosion and Profit Shifting? A Review of the Empirical Literature’ (2014) 35(4) Fiscal Studies 421

J Feldman and JA Kay, ‘Tax Avoidance’ in Paul Burrows and Cento G Veljanovski (eds), The Economic approach to law (Butterworths 1981)

Edward J McCaffery, Income Tax Law: Exploring the Capital Labour Divide (OUP 2012) 12-22; 182-202 (ie 1.6 until the end of Chapter 1 and ’Chapter 7, ‘A Summary, of Sorts: Anatomy of a Tax Shelter’)

Judith Freedman, ‘Interpreting Tax Statutes: Tax Avoidance and the Intention of Parliament’ (2007) 53 LQR 123

David A Weisbach, ‘An Economic Analyisis of Anti-Tax-Avoidance Doctrines’ [2002] American Law and Economics Review 88

Grahame R Dowling, ‘The curious case of corporate tax avoidance: Is it socially irresponsible?’ (2014) 124 Journal of Business Ethics 173

Judith Freedman, ‘The Tax Avoidance Culture: Who is Responsible?’ (2006) 59 Current Legal Problems 359

Kevin Holland, Sarah Lindop, and Fatimah Zainudin, ‘Tax Avoidance: A Threat to Corporate Legitimacy? An Examination of Companies’ Financial and CSR Reports’ [2016] (3) BTR 310


Essay (100%, 6000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2017/18: 30

Average class size 2017/18: 29

Controlled access 2017/18: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness