LL4CP      Half Unit
Tax Avoidance

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Michael Blackwell (NAB 7.21)


This course is available on the LLM (extended part-time), LLM (full-time), MSc in Regulation 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.

This course has a limited number of places and we cannot guarantee all students will get a place.

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, Australia 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, Australia 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) BEPS and the EU; and (vii) corporate social responsibility, professional ethics and public attitudes with regard tax avoidance.


This course will have two hours of teaching content each week in Michaelmas Term, either in the form of a two hour seminar or an online lecture and one hour class. There will be a Reading Week in Week 6 of Michaelmas Term.

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

Michael Blackwell, ‘The April 2019 loan charge’ [2019] (3) British Tax Review 240-257.

Michael Blackwell, 'Conduct Unbefitting: Solicitors, the SRA and Tax Avoidance' [2019] (1) British Tax Review 31-55

Michael Blackwell, 'Variation in the Outcomes of Tax Appeals Between Special Commissioners: An Empirical Study' [2013] British Tax Review 154-174

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.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 51

Average class size 2020/21: 13

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness