To aid and abet means to assist another person in the commission of a crime by words or conduct actively, knowingly, and intentionally.
In a criminal offence, a person who aids and abets in a crime, participates in the commission of the crime by performing some overt act or by giving advice or encouragement.
The person shares the criminal intent of the person who actually commits the crime. However, it is not necessary for the aider and abettor to be physically present at the scene of the crime, or take part in the actual offence.
Under criminal law, an aider and abettor party to a crime will be criminally liable as a principal, an accessory.
End the cuts to staff dealing with tax avoiders: Revenue & Customs brings cash into the government’s coffers by investigating tax fraud, so why cull its staff?
Revenue and Customs staff who deal with tax avoidance are being cut. Photograph: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Our chancellor has never been noted for his great communication skills. Over the past few months, however, it would seem that on the issue of tax avoidance, George Osborne has been very clear.
He was going to come down on avoiders like a “tonne of bricks” and, naturally, he was shocked to find that the wealthy were paying little tax. He would introduce a general anti-avoidance rule to deal with all this, and he had invested £900m in HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to tackle evasion and avoidance. Understandable, when the country faces a huge deficit and, on the government’s own conservative estimate, at least £40bn of taxes are going uncollected. What better way to show that we are all in it together.
But is the government tough on avoidance?
It has produced a report on an anti-avoidance rule. Who did it ask to develop this – a member of HMRC perhaps, or a barrister used by HMRC to combat avoidance? No, it used Graham Aaronson QC, well known for representing large business and wealthy people in tax disputes. And Aaronson’s suggestion is a rule so narrowly drawn that it will legitimise most of what the public recognises as avoidance.
What of all those extra resources for HMRC? When it was formed by merging the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise in 2005, it had nearly 100,000 staff. Now it has 65,000, and this will continue to fall over the next two years to 56,000. This is an almost 50% cut that has far outstripped the genuine savings from merger and IT improvements.
Any organisation facing 10 years of successive cuts would struggle with the consequences, and the problems HMRC has faced in recent years stem from this. In the spending review, the Treasury intended to cut the HMRC budget by a further £3bn over three years, but only cut it by just under £2bn – and this is what Osborne calls an investment of £900m. I know of nowhere else where a £2bn cut is described in such a way.
I represent the senior professionals in HMRC, many of whom are the inspectors, lawyers and accountants dealing with large-scale avoidance daily. Despite what the chancellor says, the number of such professionals is falling, by around 450 by 2015, and many of those have gone already. Even the part of HMRC that deals with the largest corporates is continuing to shrink, and will do so by 20% by 2015. Does it make sense to cut the one part of the government that brings cash in, when we are having to cut back on services to the vulnerable across the board?
A recent public accounts committee report on HMRC highlighted the pressures HMRC staff were under, and how the poor morale caused by constant cuts is having a negative impact on performance.
There is no silver bullet to stop tax avoidance. But a broadly based anti-avoidance rule would be a start. No piece of legislation will work if it is not policed well, and that requires highly professional, well-trained and motivated staff in HMRC.
That means increasing the resources, so that the organisation has enough highly trained staff and a professional infrastructure to support them, and retaining and motivating experienced staff. All this would cost relatively little, and would produce an investment return of at least 20:1 (based on what is already achieved by senior HMRC professionals) – a return any private business would envy and support.
In Britain, we have a remarkably compliant tax population that knows taxes are a price we pay for a decent society. It will continue to do so while the system is seen to be fair and policed in an even-handed way. If we continue to facilitate avoidance and cut the resources HMRC has to combat it, then we may lose that general level of compliance. And, once lost, it will be difficult to regain.
• Graham Black is president of the Association of Revenue and Customs, part of the senior civil servants union, the FDA