Blackstone Chambers and Simmons & Simmons lawyers representing BPP in the Supreme Court today

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By Katie King on

Battle of the brains in sticky tax dispute

A legal dream team has been assembled to fight BPP’s corner in a Supreme Court tax battle today.

The appeal has been brought by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) against BPP Holdings (which owns BPP Law School). It hinges on a decision made by the first-tier tribunal’s tax chamber. Then the tribunal was considering an appeal by BPP against two assessments and a decision relating to the chargeability of value-added tax (VAT) on textbooks and other printed materials. In September 2014, the tribunal decided HMRC should be barred from taking part in the appeal, because it failed to comply with the tribunal’s directions.

A disgruntled HMRC appealed to the upper tribunal, and there Judge Bishopp decided the first-tier tribunal had erred in law by imposing the barring order. However, following a 2015 defeat in the Court of Appeal the HMRC has now brought the case before the Supreme Court. Here, Lords Neuberger, Clarke, Sumption, Reed and Hodge will consider:

Whether the tax chamber of the first-tier tribunal erred in imposing an order debarring HMRC from participating in an appeal following HMRC’s failure to comply with the tribunal’s directions.

Expect to see a fierce advocacy battle between some of the country’s most notable lawyers. In HMRC’s corner is Jessica Simor QC, a Matrix Chambers barrister who readers may remember recently represented Deir Dos Santos in the Article 50 Miller case. She’ll be working alongside chamber mate Nicholas Gibson, a former Freshfields solicitor who specialises in commercial law and public law.

And defending BPP will be the well-practiced Supreme Court advocate Sam Grodzinski QC, instructed by Simmons & Simmons. The Blackstone Chambers barrister’s clientele includes the likes of BT, Carlsberg and Virgin Media, plus he acted for the Law Society in a challenge against the government’s recent criminal legal aid cuts. His experience will work in BPP’s favour in the half-day hearing, which tax law fans can watch live on the Supreme Court’s website.

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