Growing IRD aggression poses civil liberties threat – Lennard

Mike Lennard, a former senior IRD lawyer, says a surge in search and seizure powers does not appear justified, given the high level of compliance by New Zealand taxpayers.

Civil liberties are under threat as the Inland Revenue wields its search and seizure powers more freely, a senior tax barrister warns.

The taxman’s use of its powers to search and seize property has risen seven-fold over the past five years, from 12 in 2007 to 85 in the last year.

Mike Lennard, a former senior IRD lawyer, says the surge does not appear justified given the high level of compliance by New Zealand taxpayers.

“As the commissioner herself said only a couple of months ago, our tax compliance is among the best in the OECD, “ Mr Lennard says.

In today’s print edition of the National Business Review, he explains why the trend concerns him and why questions need to be asked at the right levels of the Inland Revenue.

“Are we prosecuting people more and intruding on their privacy and liberty more because we need to do so or simply because we have lawyers and investigators who would otherwise have nothing to do?"

He notes that people on the receiving end of the IRD’s search and seizure activity tend to have somewhat chequered records.

“It’s easy for the department to say all of these people have bad compliance histories. They probably do.

"But the fact is, historically, infringements on civil liberties rarely begin against totally blameless people,” he says.

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