About Geoff Clews

GEOFFREY CLEWS, QSM, LL.B (Hons), M. Jur. (Distn) (Auck.), AIF, FANZCN, M. Inst. D.

METRO Lawyers 5384 2

You can contact Geoff Clews on +64 9 307 3993, by email at geoff.clews@taxcounsel.co.nz or by using our contact page.

Professional background
Geoff Clews is one of the few New Zealand lawyers who specialize in acting for clients facing serious tax problems, both civil and criminal. He has done so for more than 30 years. Geoff’s practice covers all aspects of tax 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. In all these matters Geoff applies focused analysis of his client’s situation, an honest judgment of their position, strategic thinking and compelling advocacy.

Until 1998 Geoff was a senior tax partner with Russell McVeagh. At that time he withdrew from his firm to practice as a specialist barrister. Over the two decades since, he has been consistently rated as an outstanding practitioner in disputed tax matters. Excerpts from his more recent independent professional reviews include:
  • "Specialises in acting for clients in major tax defence matters... 'He is a good resource and very generous with his time and advice.' He is also praised for his sound judgment and many years experience." Chambers Asia Pacific 2014.
  • "Experienced practitioner...known in the market as a 'good safe pair of hands' with a high capacity for handling 'a wide variety of work' in the taxation space ... active in an advisory capacity...and in court proceedings at first instance and appellate level." Chambers Asia Pacific 2015.
  • "Highlighted by market commentators as an 'excellent' adviser, Geoffrey Clews...impresses with his abilities representing high net worth individuals in criminal proceedings relating to allegations of tax evasion." Chambers Asia Pacific 2016
  • Best Lawyers in New Zealand, 2016-17 edition, Listed for tax , wills and trusts. Auckland Tax Lawyer of the year for 2017.
  • A "very good operator"... lauded by clients as "knowledgeable and a very safe pair of hands in a serious tax dispute." He has extensive experience representing high net worth individuals in criminal proceedings concerning allegations of tax evasion. According to one source, "in the criminal area he is brilliant." Chambers Asia Pacific 2017
  • Finance MonthlyNew Zealand Corporate and Business Tax Lawyer of the Year, 2018.
  • "'Very well regarded' by sources, who report that he is a 'safe pair of hands and has good judgement.' He is noted for his activity on trust matters, with experience in handling tax disputes for both individuals and companies. He often represents high net worth clients on tax evasion and anti-corruption matters." Chambers Asia Pacific 2018
  • "Geoffrey Clews of Old South British Chambers is in-demand for tax disputes, and noted by law firms for his activity in this practice area. Lately he has been involved in litigation around the meaning and extent of tax provisions between New Zealand and foreign jurisdictions, such as the double tax agreement with China. He is highly respected, with one source stating: 'He is great to work with as he is approachable and well-versed at thinking outside the box to get the right legal answer.'" Chambers Asia Pacific 2019
  • Finance Monthly, New Zealand Corporate Tax Law Firm of the year, 2019.
  • Geoffrey Clews of Old South British Chambers is well regarded among commentators, who report that "he really performs well." Noted for handling tax avoidance cases, he has extensive experience of advising clients on Inland Revenue investigations, as well as trusts cases. - Chambers Asia - Pacific 2020
  • "A very experienced, safe set of hands and a very good litigator." - Chambers Asia-Pacific 2021
  • "... 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 2022.

Geoff is a member and past chairman of the New Zealand Law Society’s Tax Committee. He is a longstanding member of the International Fiscal Association (IFA) and of the International Bar Association (IBA) for which he has acted as national tax reporter. He has also acted as national reporter to the Foreign Lawyer’s Forum of the American Bar Association Tax Section.

Geoff’s practice also includes representation in trust disputes. His experience in trusts includes superannuation (pension) law and a special interest in the tax treatment of foreign trusts and trustees and of trusts for non-residents of New Zealand or persons immigrating to this country. For a time he chaired the board of the Bank of Bermuda’s New Zealand trust operation.
Geoff has advocated the voluntary adoption in New Zealand of higher practice standards by investment fiduciaries and professionals and in 2003 he contributed the New Zealand case law commentary to the work in this country of the Centre for Fiduciary Studies, then associated with the University of Pittsburgh. This work set out a framework of practices to improve the quality of investment-related decision making by trustees and advisers. In 2005 he qualified as an Accredited Investment FiduciaryTM under the auspices of the Centre (now called Fi 360).

His work in advising on standards for investment professionals was cited by the Minister of Commerce when Geoff was appointed in August 2011 to be a member of the Financial Advisers Disciplinary Committee. This body is established under the Financial Advisers Act 2008 to consider complaints of misconduct laid by the Financial Markets Authority against Authorised Financial Advisers. Geoff's term on the Committee was renewed for a further four years in 2015 and he stood down from this tribunal at the end of 2019. Continuing his commitment to the improvement of financial standards, and reflecting his experience on the FADC, he now chairs the Financial Services Council's Code of Conduct Disciplinary Committee. 

Geoff is a member of the New Zealand Institute of Directors.

Community involvement

Outside the law Geoff’s community interests centre on the arts. In the early 1990’s he was part of a small team which established the Rose Centre community theatre in Belmont, Auckland. He went on to play a major role in establishing the premier arts facility on Auckland’s North Shore, the Bruce Mason Centre (named for a famous New Zealand playwright). In 1997 Geoff received the inaugural Major Achievement Award from the New Zealand Trustees Association on behalf of the trust he chaired to establish that facility. He received a civic award from his city for those efforts in 1998. He chaired the Board of the Bruce Mason Centre for twelve years after it opened in 1996. Geoff stepped down from the Board in September 2009 after 25 years of association with the promotion, development and governance of the Centre. The Board of the Centre recognised that contribution by conferred on him the honorary title Chairman Emeritus.

In 2007 Geoff joined the Board of Q Theatre Limited, a company working to establish a multiform theatre in Auckland’s CBD. Construction of Q Theatre began in December 2009 and the Theatre opened for business at the end of August 2011, offering a curated program of professional performing arts in central Auckland. Geoff stood down from the Q Board in May 2013 after 6 years with the project, having seen it through construction to opening and operation. Largely because of his work in arts governance Geoff was then appointed by Auckland Council as a director of Regional Facilities Auckland. RFA was then the commercial arm of Auckland Council which has responsibility for the major publicly owned arts, sports, heritage, collections and convention venues in the Auckland region: over $1.2 billion in assets. Geoff served two terms as a director and during that time chaired RFA's Risk Committee and was also a member of its Capital Projects Committee. He retired from the RFA Board at the end of October 2019. 

Geoff also chaired for three years Arts Advocates Auckland, an organization which promoted arts issues and interests in the Auckland region. In addition to these activities Geoff is an enthusiastic theatre and opera supporter. Since 2004 he has sponsored the annual drama award of the Northern Area Performance Theatre Awards (NAPTA’s) and in 2013 became the Patron of that organisation. With his appointment he inaugurated an annual patron's award of 2 scholarships for advanced training in performance or technical aspects of theatre. 

Geoff chairs the Sir George Elliot Charitable Trust and has been a trustee since 1987.  This substantial foundation makes sizeable grants towards community projects and, since the turn of the century has annually awarded Sir George Elliot Tertiary Scholarships. Elliot Scholars have faced and overcome adverse life circumstances to be leaders in their school communities and achieve academic success. The Elliott Scholarship is now recognised as one of the most generous and prestigious in New Zealand. It is contested keenly each year and awards are presented by the Governor General. There are now more than 70 Elliot Scholars. Many of the scholarship alumni have graduated from their studies and are beginning to make their marks in their chosen fields. In 2019 the Trust inaugurated the Sir George Elliot Fellowship to recognise the ongoing contribution of scholars in their fields of endeavour and to their communities.

In August 2011 Geoff joined the Board of Trustees of the Auckland Foundation, which promotes private and commercial philanthropy under the community foundation model that has had great success in the US and Australia. The Foundation aims to establish long term endowments with which to help meet the present and future needs of Auckland. It provides a legal "umbrella" for donors to plug into easily, providing an efficient asset-holding and management structure for donors, while allowing them still to determine how their contributions should be applied to the causes that move them.  In July 2014 Geoff was elected Chairman of the Foundation. Under his leadership the Foundation trebled in size and the value of registered bequests grew to more than $27 million. Geoff stood down as Chairman in 2018 but remains an ambassador for the Foundation's work.

Having drafted much of its originating deed, Geoff chairs the advisory panel for Te Kiwi Maia, The Courageous Kiwi's Trust. This is a charitable trust to aid and assist members of the defence forces and first response organisations who suffer physical, mental or emotional harm as a result of their work. To visit the Te Kiwi Maia page on the Charities register, click here. To visit its Facebook page, click here.  

In addition to his community appointments, Geoff regularly undertakes pro bono work for community organisations. Find out more about this work.

In the 2023 New Year's Royal Honours list, Geoff Clews was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for services to the arts and the community.


Geoff has contributed New Zealand commentary to five international legal texts. He is the inaugural author of the New Zealand Chapter of International Taxation of Low-Tax Transactions, BNA International Inc 1999, and of the New Zealand contribution to International Stock Plans: The Practitioner’s Guide to Exporting Employee Equity, Louis Rorimer, Bowne & Co Inc 1999, 2000. He wrote the New Zealand Commentary for the 2000 Edition of Brookes Notary and contributed the New Zealand update for the 2014 and 2021 editions.

In 2017 Geoff Clews was approached by Law Business Research Limited, the publishers of the prestigious Law Review collection, to contribute the inaugural New Zealand chapter for the Tax Disputes and Litigation Review. Although 5 editions of this Review had previously been published, none had included work setting out the practice and procedures governing tax disputes and litigation in this country. The 6th edition of the Review was published in April 2018 and has been revised by Geoff annually since then. To read the latest New Zealand chapter, click here.

Then in 2018 Geoff was asked by Chambers & Partners to write the first New Zealand content for their Tax Controversy Global Practice Guide. This was published in May 2019 and has been updated twice since. To read the latest New Zealand content, click here.

Geoff is a regular speaker at tax and trust related conferences and seminars, both in New Zealand and overseas, and a number of his papers are published on this site.

Qualifications and Teaching

Geoff is a graduate of Auckland University (LLB (Hons) 1979, M Jur (Distn) 1982) and was admitted to the New Zealand Bar in February 1980. He also holds permanent admission to the Cook Islands High Court, where he regularly appears in disputed tax matters and international trust and company litigation. He argued as taxpayers' counsel the first case to test the scope and application of the Cook Islands' Tax Information Exchange Agreements and recently argued successfully against the Cook Island Government's income source rules applicable to international aircraft operators.

Geoff was appointed a Notary public in 1991 and is a Fellow of the Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries.  

Until 2003 Geoff was a guest lecturer on legal issues affecting arts administration in the Faculty of Management at Auckland University. Since 2004 he has co-presented the module on the Conduct and Procedures of Tax Disputes in the Master of Taxation Studies programme, first at Auckland University's School of Commercial Law and now at the University Law School, where he is is a Teaching Fellow in the Law School's adjunct faculty.


To view Geoff Clews' LinkedIn profile, click here.

The Chambers Team

Geoff Clews is Head of Chambers at Old South British Chambers in Auckland. He is assisted in many instructions by his colleague in Chambers, barrister Sam Davies. For seven years Sam was employed in Geoff's practice but he now practices on his own account form the same Chambers. To read more about Sam, click here. Other members of chambers outside Geoff's team include Ross Knight and Tracy Chubb. 

Francesca Lipscombe is Executive Assistant to the legal team and Chambers Manager of Old South British Chambers. To read more about Francesca, click here

P.  +64 9 307 3993   M.  +64 21 627 737
F.  +64 9 307 3996
E.  geoff.clews@taxcounsel.co.nz