Campaign group drops HMRC tax evasion judicial review

HMRC will not face a judicial review over its handling of HSBC-backed tax evasion after a campaign group dropped its fight to take the tax office to court.

Online campaign group Avaaz initiated judicial review proceedings in May, but has ended its efforts after deciding it had little prospect of success.

The group wanted to challenge HMRC’s decision to offer amnesty to many of the 3,600 UK-based individuals identified by the whistleblower Herve Falciani as potentially hiding money from the taxman through HSBC’s Swiss private bank.

After receiving the list of individuals more than five years ago, the tax office secured a single conviction for evasion, after consulting the Crown Prosecution Service on four cases.

Avaaz campaign director Alex Wilks says the group will instead focus on lobbying the Government to reform the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility, which allowed many of the individuals to pay the tax avoided plus a fine of 10 per cent.

George Osborne announced at the Budget in March that the LDF would be replaced with a new, more stringent regime by the end of the year as part of a clampdown on evasion.

Wilks says: “We have taken advice on it, and there are high bars to win a judicial review.

“It’s possible we could have won it and set a precedent for a more sane approach to tax, but it looked like too steep a hill to climb, especially when it costs tens of thousands of pounds when you lose.

“What we’re planning to do instead is pour our money and energy into the review of the LDF.

“They claim they are going to spruce that up, and we’re going to try and make sure that there isn’t the possibility to give people a free pass or an amnesty when there should in fact be a deterrent effect.”

HMRC could not be reached for comment.