Book celebrates ten years of tax

27 March 2017
Michael Littlewood (new)

Professor Michael Littlewood returned to Auckland in 2003, after 15 years in Hong Kong. Now a group of his students have put together a book celebrating his first ten years back in Auckland. As the editors, Aditya Basrur, Chris Jenkins, James Ruddell and Sehj Vather, say in the forewords they have contributed to the book, it is intended as a “thank you” to Michael for the help he has given to a large number of students over the years.

That help came in the form principally of teaching, on which they are all impressively complimentary: “as a teacher he has few peers”; “Michael Littlewood’s decade as a tax lecturer at the University of Auckland has shaped a generation of commercial lawyers”; “tax at Auckland has become something of an institution”; “Michael has a unique style of classroom instruction. I have yet to meet another professor who employs the Socratic method as deftly as he does” (and that from one who had gone on to study at Stanford); “He has an ability to communicate the most abstract concepts through a conversational, seemingly impromptu back-and-forth with his students”; “Michael has transformed [tax] from the obscure course it once was into a mainstream one that is now routinely oversubscribed”; “being called on in 8:00am Advanced Tax classes while your brain was still numb from a mid-winter commute (“You!” and some rolled up papers pointed in your direction) was character-building.” Nor is it only those who produced this book who hold such opinions: Michael’s popularity as a teacher is legendary, even extending to the notoriously harsh website Rate My Teacher, where he’s consistently ranked by his students as five star; and, since he returned to Auckland, the number of students studying tax has increased fourfold.

But Michael’s influence, the editors say, has gone beyond his teaching: “I would not have considered going to Dubai, moving to New York, or finally taking up a place at Cambridge in 2015 without Michael’s influence”; “Michael’s impact also arises through the more holistic care (for want of a better term) he provides to his students”; “I am one of the lucky many who has benefited from Michael’s enduring support. That support has played a substantial role in almost all of the most significant events in my recent academic and professional life”; “I first met Michael Littlewood in 2006.

Since then, his classroom instruction, advice, and friendship have had a major impact on the trajectory of my life. I feel some combination of gratitude and amazement as I contemplate how differently the past few years would have unfolded had Michael decided, all those years ago, not to return to New Zealand to teach at the University of Auckland. More bewildering, however, is that he seems to have had an equal if not greater impact on the lives of so many other students as well”.

The book consists of 18 chapters, one by each of the four editors and the others by 14 of Michael’s other students. Each chapter is based on a student paper written under Michael’s supervision. All of the chapters have been previously published – most in either the New Zealand Journal of Taxation Law and Policy or the Auckland University Law Review. Others, however, were published in other journals – the British Tax Review, the Hong Kong Law Journal, the New Zealand Universities Law Review and the Waikato Law Review.

Collectively, the papers cover a broad range of tax scholarship, from the highly technical to broad questions of policy. The first group of papers deal with new Zealand domestic tax: the tax consequences of surrendering an option (Phil Norton); fiscal responsibility (Chye-Ching Huang); whether it would be a good idea to increase the tax on liquor so as to curb binge drinking (Patricia Ieong); and the merits of allowing income splitting (Alice Jingjing Wang). Two chapters are on avoidance – one on the perennially troublesome distinction between unacceptable tax avoidance and acceptable tax planning (James Ruddell); the other on how the Commissioner of Inland Revenue should go about reconstructing arrangements found to be abusive (Tom Faulls).

A number of the papers concern international tax and double tax treaties (or DTAs) – one each on the New Zealand/Canada DTA (Sabrina Muck); treaty shopping (Louisa Boyd); China’s evolving tax treaty policy (Joanna Khoo); the tax treatment of suppliers of “independent personal services” (Keefe Han); and DTAs with tax havens (Kyle Rainsford). Another deals with the tax treatment of New Zealand firms’ offshore subsidiaries (Sehj Vather). Half a dozen of the papers add to the evolving literature on tax history: New Zealand’s first experiment with income tax in 1842 (Ogy Kabzamalov); the introduction of stamp duty and estate duty in New Zealand in 1866 (Aditya Basrur); the more successful attempt at an income tax in 1891 (Luke Facer); the tax treatment of companies in New Zealand from 1840 to 2008 (Annie Steele); the tax treatment of married women (Nicola Jones); and, finally, the introduction of income tax in India in 1860 (Chris Jenkins).

As indicated by the book’s title, the papers were written over a span of ten years; where appropriate, however, they have been updated so as to retain relevance. As one of the editors observes, “The articles alone are impressive. Combining them allows the reader to view the subject over a broader arch: comparing local and international perspectives, contrasting theory, history, and practice.”

Michael Littlewood's book

The book does not, however, include all of the papers published by students under Michael’s supervision; rather, it includes only full-length articles published in academic journals. Consequently, many were excluded – articles by postgraduate students, case notes and legislation notes; and also articles in more professionally-aimed publications such as the New Zealand Law Journal and Taxation Today. Moreover, the book’s cut-off date was 2013 – Michael’s students who have published their work since then missed out.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book is the achievements of the students who have contributed to it. Most have been employed (for a year or two, at least) by large law firms and accounting firms in New Zealand; one works for a highly regarded boutique law firm; another has a senior in-house role; one worked as a Supreme Court judge’s clerk; another as a High Court judge’s clerk; one spent time at Crown Law; and another owns her own business. Several went on to study at prestigious universities in the UK or the US; the contributors include winners of (among many other honours) a Rhodes Scholarship, a Fullbright Scholarship, a Woolf Fisher Scholarship, a Reynolds Scholarship and a Vinerian Scholarship (which goes to the student who comes first in the BCL at Oxford). Several, too, are working overseas – as lawyers in London (mostly as solicitors; one as a barrister at One Essex Court) or New York (one for a firm repeatedly ranked as the best in the US – by which Americans presumably mean the world); one worked for tax-oriented think-tank in the UK; another now holds a senior position at a think-tank in Washington DC.

It is intriguing that the book is published by the Centre for Commercial and Corporate Law at the University of Canterbury. Presumably the editors calculated that, if they had arranged for it to be published by the Auckland University Press, it might have looked like a vanity project. That an unrelated publisher (even, some might say, a competitor) is promoting the venture confirms that, on the contrary, this volume is a very worthy addition to the literature. The book also contains forewords by Reuven Avi-Yonah, Adrian Sawyer and Andrew Stockley.

Aditya Basrur, Christopher Jenkins, James Ruddell and Sehj Vather (eds) Ten years of Tax: A Celebration of Professor Michael Littlewood’s First Decade at the University of Auckland Faculty of Law, 2003-2013 (Centre for Commercial and Corporate Law, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 2016); xxvii plus 556 pages; $120.00.

The book can be ordered here:


List of contributors
(95.4 kB, PDF)
Editors' Forewords
(86.5 kB, PDF)