get a better justice for your money

Sep 11, 2019

That everyone is equal under the law is high-minded piffle. Justice certainly does not do what it says on the tin. If you trust in that one, let me introduce you to the fairies at the bottom of my garden.

Some years ago when setting up my business in Spain, I reasoned I needed a very good accountant since I was unfamiliar with local tax laws and requirements. My lawyer suggested a colleague of his who had been a tax inspector for the ‘Hacienda’, Spain tax authority. Who better than a game-keeper turned poacher to advise me on my tax affairs?

There was then, many years ago, a value-added tax called ITE, Impuestos de Trafico de Empresas. It was an infant to today’s VAT at only 2,7%. It made little difference to my clients if their invoices were 100 pts or 103 pts. Nobody bothered about such a small increase on the net price. But my new accountant established the business did not need to bother with it; we were exempt.

About seven years later we were subject to a random tax inspection where it was established we had been breaking the tax laws by not charging and paying ITE. We received notice of a hefty fine and seven years back tax of ITE plus 20% on top for late payment. Seven years turnover in any business is not peanuts. It was a severe financial blow.

Still confident in our position I contacted my accountant, grateful he had been chosen with such forethought years ago and confident in his resolution to the problem. Of course, he said, don’t worry, I’ll take it up with the tax inspector. We’re old mates, we’ll soon sort it out. And they did. They both agreed his original advice was wrong and the business would have to pay the fine.

Furious, I went back to my lawyer with the idea I’d sue the accountant for professional incompetence. Oh no, said my lawyer, sorry – not possible. Lawyers and accountants were not liable in such cases. They were professional advisors and the person receiving the advice was not obliged to follow it but that person was responsible for the actions they took after receiving the advice – pay the fine and keep quiet.

As you may imagine, I was not best pleased. I had taken all the steps to work within the law, my clients would have been happy to pay the extra 2.7% on their invoices and we would have paid it to the authorities. Yet still I ended up a loser whilst those responsible sailed off unsullied into their professional sunsets.

In high dudgeon, I returned to my office where I ran into a long-standing client. A splendid old duffer, now retired but previously a crown court judge of some note on the UK circuit. “What’s up with you, son?” he said. Despite my middle years he always called me son or lad. I didn’t mind, he was a great guy, gave me no unnecessary trouble and paid his bills on time.

I briefly outlined the reason for my outrage to which he responded, “I’ve been a high-court judge for many years. I’ve seen more innocents sent to jail and more rogues getting set free by the justice system than you’ve had hot dinners. Don’t expect justice in this world, and be grateful if you get it in the next”. With that splendid homily, he turned and went on his way.

Those words have remained with me as a sharp lesson in life ever since.

Money and power have their hands firmly locked on the scales of justice. Try taking the drug company to court if you get a bad reaction to one of their medicines, or maybe you fancy your chances against your local bank when they make an error that costs your dear? Being right doesn’t matter.

Where do the best accountants and lawyers work? For clients who pay them the best fees and retainers. How many professionals of this ilk do you think Bayer and your bank have at their fingertips? Even if they know you’re right, they’ll extend the issue for months if not years before it gets to court safe in the knowledge their defence budgets pockets are far deeper than yours.

If you persist anyway, at the eleventh hour they’ll settle out of court with compensation. The last thing they want is a precedence judgement against them, there may be many others equally slighted after you.

Rememember those wise words:

Don’t expect justice in this world and be grateful if you get it in the next.


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