Tax and Tax Avoidance

This information is for the 2020/21 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.

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 tax administration system in the UK. 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? How can companies be fairly taxed in the digital economy? 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 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. This course requires students to understand and apply difficult concepts and legislation.

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.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through recorded online lectures and a mix of both in-person and online classes to accommodate students who are unable to physically be on campus.  This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

A variety of methods will be used within the weekly classes. This  system is not suitable for students who favor passive lecture learning and regurgitation of facts.  Student participation will be central.  Assistance will be given with methods for statute-based work.  Substantial preparation and by students will form an integral part of the course.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

M.C. Blackwell 'The April 2019 loan charge' [2019] British Tax Review 240-257. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3434951


M.C. Blackwell ‘Conduct Unbefitting: Solicitors, the SRA and Tax Avoidance’ [2019] British Tax Review 31-54. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3354776


M.C. Blackwell ‘Variation in the Outcomes of Tax Appeals Between Special Commissioners: An Empirical Study’ [2013] British Tax Review 154. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3337780


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.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2019/20: 25

Average class size 2019/20: 25

Capped 2019/20: Yes (23)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills