The Best Lawyers in SA

Business Day - Business Law and Tax Review - - FRONT PAGE - SANCHIA TEMKIN

TAX­PAY­ERS and some ad­vi­sors are usu­ally ig­no­rant when it comes to tax­pay­ers’ rights,” says Beric Croome, an ex­ec­u­tive in tax at ENS.

Croome has re­ceived the hon­our of “Lawyer of the Year” for 2010 in the tax cat­e­gory, due to the par­tic­u­larly high rat­ings he re­ceived from his peers.

For three years in a row, since Best Lawyers was first pub­lished in SA, he has been des­ig­nated as a “Best Lawyer” for tax.

Croome says that there is no doubt that the con­sti­tu­tion has changed the face of tax­a­tion in SA. “Tax­pay­ers need to be aware of the rights that they have in their deal­ings with the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice (SARS) so that they may be treated fairly and prop­erly.”

He says that tax­pay­ers are also un­for­tu­nately un­aware of the fact that rights con­tained in the con­sti­tu­tion may be limited by laws of gen­eral ap­pli­ca­tion where it is rea­son­able and nec­es­sary to do so in a democ­racy. “I am of­ten con­sulted by clients who be­lieve that their rights have been vi­o­lated by SARS but upon fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it is es­tab­lished that the lim­i­ta­tion of rights con­tained in sec­tion 36 of the con­sti­tu­tion al­lows for that lim­i­ta­tion to take place.”

Tax­pay­ers in SA cur­rently also do not have a cost-ef­fec­tive rem­edy in seek­ing re­dress when SARS abuses its pow­ers un­duly and this is a mat­ter that should be ad­dressed.

Croome is a non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Tax­pay­ers Move­ment of SA which, among other things, in­tends to in­crease tax­pay­ers’ aware­ness of the rights that they have with SARS and is also call­ing for the cre­ation of the tax om­buds­man as a sep­a­rate in­de­pen­dent of­fice to deal with tax­pay­ers’ com­plaints where

Tax­pay­ers need to be aware of the rights that they have in their deal­ings with SARS so that they may be treated fairly and prop­erly

SARS has abused its pow­ers.

Croome’s cho­sen ca­reer path was not ini­tially that of a lawyer.

He wanted to be­come a char­tered ac­coun­tant and, af­ter fin­ish­ing school, he com­menced his un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Pre­to­ria for a BCom de­gree, which he com­pleted at the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town in 1980. He re­ceived his Cer­tifi­cate in the The­ory of Ac­coun­tancy in 1981. Af­ter suc­cess­fully com­plet­ing the fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing ex­am­i­na­tion in 1982, he be­gan ar­ti­cles as a trainee ac­coun­tant. In lieu of na­tional ser­vice, he worked at the Jo­han­nes­burg Re­ceiver of Rev­enue (as it was then known) for a pe­riod of four years. “I so en­joyed work­ing in the tax arena that I com­pleted my Higher Diploma in Tax Law at the Uni­ver­sity of Wit­wa­ter­srand dur­ing this pe­riod, pass­ing cum laude and gar­ner­ing the Ed­ward Nathan Fried­land prize for the top stu­dent.”

It was dur­ing these stud­ies that Croome de­cided that tax was a le­gal sub­ject and de­cided to ex­pand on his knowl­edge of law, and tax law in par­tic­u­lar. As he was al­ready work­ing full time, he be­came a part-time stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of South Africa and com­pleted the BProc and LLB de­grees. “Study­ing con­sti­tu­tional law, in par­tic­u­lar the bill of rights, whet­ted my ap­petite for tax­pay­ers’ rights in SA and how the bill of rights af­fects South African tax­pay­ers in their deal­ings with the Com­mis­sioner of SARS.”

Dur­ing 1994 he started to write ar­ti­cles about the con­sti­tu­tion, which came into ef­fect on April 27 1994 and the ef­fect it had on the man­ner in which the rev­enue author­ity deals with tax­pay­ers. Sub­se­quently, he started re­search­ing the pro­tec­tion of tax­pay­ers’ rights in var­i­ous coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly Aus­tralia, Canada, the UK and the US, col­lect­ing ar­ti­cles and ma­te­ri­als re­lat­ing thereto. This came in handy dur­ing 2001 when Pro­fes­sor Richard Jooste of the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town re­quested that he author an ar­ti­cle deal­ing with tax­pay­ers’ rights in SA for pub­li­ca­tion in the UCT law jour­nal “Acta Juridica” which was pub­lished in 2002. “My pas­sion for the sub­ject led to an ar­ti­cle twice as long as was re­quired by the uni­ver­sity. I didn’t want to lose the ad­di­tional ma­te­rial, so when Pro­fes­sor Jooste sug­gested that I con­sider ap­ply­ing for ad­mis­sion to the PhD (Doc­tor of Phi­los­o­phy) de­gree at the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town, with tax­pay­ers’ rights in SA as my topic, I was drawn to the chal­lenge,” says Croome.

He com­menced stud­ies un­der the su­per­vi­sion of pro­fes­sors Richard Jooste and Hugh Corder, then dean at the fac­ulty of law at the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town, in 2003. His topic fo­cused on tax­pay­ers’ rights in SA, con­cen­trat­ing on the rights to prop­erty, pri­vacy, ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tive jus­tice and ac­cess to courts. He re­ceived his PhD de­gree in June 2008.

The Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town put his the­sis for­ward for the 2009 Deneys Reitz Na­tional Tax The­sis Com­pe­ti­tion. Croome was sub­se­quently ad­vised that his the­sis had been given the award in the doc­toral cat­e­gory.

The the­sis was pub­lished by Juta’s as the book “Tax­pay­ers’ Rights in South Africa” in May this year.

Croome is cur­rently work­ing with two lead­ing over­seas tax spe­cial­ists in the field of tax­pay­ers’ rights, coau­thor­ing a book deal­ing with in­ter­na­tional tax­payer pro­tec­tion. Pub­li­ca­tion of this book is aimed at 2011 or 2012.

For many years, he has taken a great in­ter­est in the pow­ers of SARS and how it treats tax­pay­ers in light of the rights con­ferred on tax­pay­ers un­der the pro­vi­sions of the bill of rights.

Hope­fully, when the process of con­vert­ing the tech­ni­cal text of “Tax­pay­ers’ Rights in South Africa” into a more ac­ces­si­ble guide for tax­pay­ing cit­i­zens has been com­pleted, this ver­sion of the book will give the man-in-the-street the knowl­edge he re­quires to un­der­stand his rights as a tax­payer.

“I hope that, in the not too dis­tant fu­ture, there will be sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ments in the area of tax­pay­ers’ rights in SA, en­hanc­ing the pro­tec­tion of tax­pay­ers’ rights in the coun­try,” he says.

Beric Croome… Lack of a cost-ef­fec­tive rem­edy to seek re­dress against abuse needs to be ad­dressed.

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