Expert in Tax Law and Taxpayer Defence, Trusts law and Trusts disputes

Geoff Clews is one of the few New Zealand barristers who specialize in acting for clients facing serious tax problems, both civil and criminal. He has done so for almost 40 years. Geoff leads the tax practice at Old South British Chambers, assisted by experienced associate barrister, Sam Davies.

Geoff’s practice covers all aspects of tax advice and controversy. He advises clients in the course of Inland Revenue investigations. He conducts the formal aspects of the statutory tax disputes process. He litigates tax and related issues, and defends criminal tax charges, before the Courts at trial and appellate levels. His practice also includes trusts related advice, disputes and litigation.

In all these matters Geoff applies focused and objective analysis of his client’s situation, an honest judgment of their position, strategic thinking and compelling advocacy.
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                                              INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION 



Our Expertise

Tax changes have been made to help weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will continue but will need to be within limits. Tax policy will also move quickly in these uncertain times and significant future tax changes will be needed to repay stimulus and social borrowing. Read our commentary on COVID-19 tax issues here
Sometimes people cut corners with their taxes. Not everything gets returned as it should be. Claims are over stated or income is suppressed. These tax secrets fester away but you can do something about them if you act in time and with the right help. We deal with these issues all the time.
A tax investigation can be intrusive, frustrating and worrying. Tax investigation powers are intimidating but have to be exercised within limits. These procedures have to be managed carefully to avoid cost and increased tax risk. We manage tax investigations daily. 
The statutory tax disputes process  is complicated and involves strict time frames for the exchange of notices and “sudden death” deadlines. If you miss one of them, you can lose all your rights of dispute and if you omit something it will be difficult to raise it later. We know these procedures thoroughly.
A tax challenge is formal civil litigation in the Taxation Review Authority or the High Court. It requires a winning strategy, tactical sense and persuasive advocacy. We try to keep clients out of court but, if it is needed, we advocate for taxpayers against the IRD at all Court levels.
Tax crime is serious and involves the real risk of prison. If you have not disclosed your default to the IRD and it prosecutes you, an effective defence or mitigation is vital. We appear regularly to defend people who have been charged with tax offenses.
Tax debts can mount up very quickly if they are not managed. Penalties and interest can virtually double the size of a debt in 3 to 4 years. Settling payment terms with the IRD is not a normal commercial negotiation. We deal with this issue for clients all the time. 
Tax laws are particularly complicated because they have to cover every aspect of commercial life. Parliament is always changing them to meet new demands and to close loopholes. Many commercial transactions require a tax sign off and responsible taxpayers will seek advice before adopting a course that could have material tax outcomes. Sound tax advice can be insurance against some tax penalties.
Some trusts are well managed and some are not. Trustees do not always understand their obligations and beneficiaries are sometimes disadvantaged by trustee decisions. The new Trusts Act changes the legal landscape. Trustees' duties are clearer and beneficiaries have expanded rights to know about a trust. Importantly, trust disputes can now be resolved using alternative dispute procedures of mediation and arbitration saving the costs of litigation.
The Department of Internal Affairs Charities Service vets, registers and oversees charities. Defining the purposes of an organisation in a way that qualifies as charitable can require professional advice. Adverse decisions as to charitable status may be appealed to the High Court which has marked out a more particular approach to the scope of charitable purposes. 
Geoff Clews holds permanent
admission to the Bar of the Cook Islands High Court. He is available to act as counsel in tax disputes and litigation with the Cook Islands Revenue Management Division, and litigation related to the Cook Islands International Trusts and Companies regimes.  
  Inland Revenue has announced the establishment of a new unit to begin building the forensic investigation capabilities that its new START computer system permits. In a nod to the TV series of the same name, the unit is called CSI, standing for Compliance Strategy and Innovation.    
This operation targets some 400 wealthy new Zealanders and asks them to disclose a great deal of information about their affairs, much of which is irrelevant to their present tax obligations. The information is being sought under a new inquiry power which allows Revenue to seek information that it considers is relevant to the development of policy for the improvement or reform of the tax system. 

Professional reviews

quote.gif Geoff Clews...He's the guy you call after Inland Revenue bursts through your doors and seizes your computers, certain already after months of covert surveillance that you're fiddling your taxes... - Auckland's Best Lawyers, Metro Magazine, August 2008

quote.gif Geoffrey Clews of Old South British Chambers is active across a comprehensive range of advisory and representational mandates in the taxation sphere, being particularly well known for his work on behalf of clients facing especially serious tax-related issues in both the civil and criminal spheres. He is described as "extremely competent" by one source and as "a distinguished lawyer with a broad practice" by another. Chambers Asia Pacific. New Zealand, the Tax bar, 2022

quote.gif "Highly respected".... "great to work with"... "approachable and well versed at thinking outside the box"... "he really performs well." Chambers Asia Pacific reviews 2018-2020.

quote.gif Geoff Clews stands out as a go-to for civil and criminal tax disputes thanks to his three decades of experience in the field. Who's Who Legal, Asia Pacific, 2021 

quote.gif Geoff, since a young age I have understood the benefit of retaining very capable people, especially when it comes to challenging issues that are quite consequential. Right from the beginning I knew you, like others before, were going to fulfill that same need. Too many people use middle level advisers, get average advice with no connection to the senior ranks of the other party and despite the lower charge out rate, end up paying more. - Client communication on successful completion of a long running case, May 2017.

quote.gif Geoff Clews has been a long-established leader in the tax law arena, in both a civil and criminal context and is one of the few New Zealand barristers who has developed a strong reputation in the area. His expertise extends from every part of tax issues and at all appellate levels, achieving significant recognition for his expertise in the area, including for his advocacy. - LawFuel "Top Barristers Nudging the Power List," February 2019.

To see other reviews, click here.


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COVID-19 Protocols

COVID-19 Protection Framework: You are welcome to meet us in Chambers using a verified My Covid Vaccine Pass. When you arrange a meeting we will send you our vaccine pass policy and ask that you acknowledge and agree to abide by it.  You must still scan in on arrival and may be asked for photo ID to verify your pass. We can arrange remote consultation for anyone who is not fully vaccinated. 

Nga mihi nui 

Geoffrey Clews, Head of Chambers,
Old South British Chambers, Auckland


Latest tax and trusts news

4 July 2022 - At a time when some taxpayers may need reminding that the days of audacious offshore planning are well past, IR has released its compliance focus on offshore transparency, which highlights the extensive international exchanges of information taking place as well as the new intelligence tools being used by IR to track offshore income. To read more, click here.  

10 June 2022 - Cabinet has directed that further work be done before so-called "dividend integrity" measures are enacted. Treasury and MBIE were consulted and expressed concerns at the lengths to which the proposals would go. A number of private sector submitters also raised such concerns. The proposals could have gone as far as to impose a capital gains tax on the sale of closely held companies when any earnings had been retained and not distributed by way of dividend. The adverse impact of that on the reinvestment of earnings in a new or growing company are obvious, but seemed to have escaped the proponents of the measures. Given the existing attribution rules that are designed to prevent the use of companies to avoid personal tax rates, the proposals had all the hallmarks of a misguided attempt to push again the taxation of capital gains. Perhaps the rethink will signal a return to saner tax policy development. 

26 May 2022 - Legislation has been passed enabling the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) to carry out work to bring an income insurance scheme into operation, should it be established under subsequent legislation. The proposed scheme is jointly designed by the Government, Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. A levy will apply on income up to $130,911 and for employees will be collected through the PAYE system. The employer levy will be collected by ACC which will also manage the scheme. To read the Bill, click here.
11 May 2022 -
A new Commissioner of Inland Revenue has been appointed, with effect from 1 July 2022. Peter Mersi, currently the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Transport (though presently Government's Covid -19 system leader), will replace outgoing Commissioner, Naomi Ferguson. Ms Ferguson has held the position of Commissioner since 2012 and has overseen a huge (but as yet somewhat untested) modernisation of Inland Revenue's systems. That business transformation project officially ends in June. Mr Mersi is a former Deputy Commissioner of Inland Revenue. 

To view past tax and trusts news, click here. 

Case notes

Tax and trusts law is constantly developing through Court and tribunal decisions. To read our latest case notes, click here.

To read our case note on the just released Supreme Court Family First decision, click here.

To read about company directors being personally liable for company tax debts, click here.

Commentary and publications

2022 Chambers & Partners Tax Controversy Guide for NZ

The latest edition of this international publication, whose New Zealand contribution was originally written and is annually revised by our team, was released on 19 May 2022. To read the new New Zealand chapter, click here.

2022 edn of the Tax Disputes and Litigation Review

The fifth edition of New Zealand commentary for this international publication, written and revised by our team, was released in February 2022. To read it, click here

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