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Tax law: rules or principles?


  • John Avery Jones CBE


This is the year of simplification of tax legislation and I should like to add my thoughts to the debate. There is nothing new in complaining about the complexity of tax legislation. Every generation does it. To give two examples, the Codification Committee in 1936 looked back longingly to the early days of income tax: ‘... the Statutes of 1842 and 1853 were relatively simple. The growth of legislation since 1907 and its increasing complexity have been in large measure due to the high rates of tax in operation ... The space occupied by the provisions relating to such reliefs and exemptions is now prodigious, and contrasts with the comparative brevity of the earlier code.... Unhappily the actual language in which many of the statutory provisions are framed is so intricate and obscure as to be frankly unintelligible’. In 1955, the Royal Commission said much the same: ‘... the law on the subject of income tax remains voluminous, complicated and obscure.... The history of earlier attempts [to simplify it], however, suggests that the problem may be in fact an intractable one, beyond the reach of recommendations’.

Suggested Citation

  • John Avery Jones CBE, 1996. "Tax law: rules or principles?," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 17(3), pages 63-89, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifs:fistud:v:17:y:1996:i:3:p:63-89

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    Cited by:

    1. Simon James & Ian Wallschutsky, 1997. "Tax law improvement in Australia and the UK: the need for a strategy for simplification," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 18(4), pages 445-460, November.
    2. Gracia, Louise & Oats, Lynne, 2012. "Boundary work and tax regulation: A Bourdieusian view," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 37(5), pages 304-321.

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