When drafting replies and submissions, sometimes less is more. This was one of the key points made by Sim Ho in the latest MasterClass seminar, “A Practical Workshop in Drafting Responses & Submissions to the IRAS”, in what proved to be a refreshing take on the subject.
The MasterClass first began with the laying out the legal “OB” lines which demarcate what a taxpayer must disclose from what he or she may or may not disclose. The intriguing conclusion, which set the stage for the rest of the seminar, was that the taxpayer’s “Right not to answer” was wider that what most taxpayers would assume.
Armed with this knowledge, the taxpayer and his advisors would however then face several difficult questions: How much should I say? If I have a case theory, how much should I commit? To aid taxpayers and advisors in this particularly delicate endeavour, Sim Ho shared a conceptual framework which, although simple to understand, is in application a powerful tool in helping drafters decide how much they should in any given reply commit to a case theory. Put succinctly, the level of commitment to a case theory is at any time a function of two dynamic factors: firstly, the “assessment mindset” of the Comptroller as discerned form the queries; and secondly, the case maturity of the taxpayer’s own case theory, taking into account the facts available to him and the applicable law.
To flesh-out the practical operation of the framework, Sim Ho shared with attendees several case studies based on actual queries. A recurrent pitfall the team had encountered in queries which had eventually come to them was the over-commitment at a premature stage to a specific case theory. This would often result in the “locking-in” of sub-optimal case theories which may at a later stage ultimately hinder the taxpayer’s chances of success. While prevention is usually better than cure, Sim Ho nevertheless discussed methods which may be utilised in “bringing-back” an over-committed case theory and re-engaging the Comptroller on the taxpayer’s own terms.
The seminar was closed out with a discussion of specific drafting guidelines as well as particularly thorny issues such as: how to deal with inconsistencies; how to address “inconvenient” questions; how to shift to the offensive; and the potential dangers of conceding.
The OSH MasterClass Series aspires to deliver a high standard of technical exposure for our clients and market partners to areas of law for which our expertise is recognised. A constant feature of our MasterClass events is a strong strategic and practice focus and thoughtful sharing of our knowledge and experience. Underlying our efforts is the belief that delivering success for our clients is the fruit of partnership with our clients and market partners.
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