Tax Stories – Simon Whitehead (JHA, UK) – on the Ancient Rome & tax litigation

In this Tax Stories episode I speak with Simon Whitehead who is ranked consistently among the leading individuals for tax litigation by the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners. He is a founding partner at Joseph Hage Aaronson, established 10 years ago. JHA is a boutique dispute resolution firm which specialises in tax litigation. JHA tax litigation practice is ranked in Tier One of Legal 500 and Chambers UK, for every year since the firm was established. Previously Simon was Partner at Dorsey & Whitney (10 years). Before that was a partner at PwC Legal. Besides the law degree Simon has a PhD at Sydney University.


“Laws are silent in time of war,” said Cicero. We can see that even in times of peace by Russia regarding the international law. We discussed if the fundamentals of the rule of law at its crossroads. We also discussed a story related to tax of Catiline who rebelled against Cicero and the Senate.


One of my favourite books regarding the ancient Rome is Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz I recommended Simon. The Polish author got the Nobel Prize in literature for it back in 1905. Whereas Simon recommended All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – the book got Pulitzer prize. The book is about a lawyer who begins his political career as an idealistic man of the people, but he soon becomes corrupted by success and the lust for power. Also Simon recommends The Truth of the Matter by Gough Whitlam on the Australian constitutional crisis and relations with the UK.


One of the issues that often amuses Simon is how politicians just look at one part of the formula – the rates, whereas the base is equally important. Then we also discussed fairness of proportionality of income tax. Simon also thinks that employers social contribution is basically just more of an income tax. Simon recalled that most probably Machiavelli said that at the beginning of the Empire the tax rates are low, but the take is high, whereas at the end the tax rates are high, but the take is low.

Tax litigation

Simon says that within their tax litigation department the best ideas come from internal discussions within the team. Also he tries to have a system where all internal messages are done by calls, not e-mails. Also virtual court hearings and e-files are great features of the lock-down. As to the fees the UK tax litigation market is quite flexible – law firms can have success fees, can take a % of the damage (but there are limitations) and no charge if the case is lost, or one can charge a little bit if you loose and a lot if you win, etc.

Tax planning is fine

In the context of several interesting CJEU tax cases Simon told about he concluded that legitimate tax planning within the EU market is fine in order to do the business as cheaply as possible, that also includes tax.

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