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Bar Talk
9 September, 2003  
Tax silk falls on his sword

Glittering tax silk surrenders and consents at the eleventh hour to being struck from the jam roll. Bar Association makes fresh allegations of fiscal impropriety against Clarrie Stevens

Former high flying (now bankrupt) tax barrister Clarence Stevens QC, finally bowed to the inevitable today and declared he was “not a fit and proper person to stay on the roll of legal practitioners”.

Consequently, the NSW Court of Appeal (Justices Meagher, Sheller and Ipp) ordered him struck off.

Apparently the decision in Andrew Hamilton Young’s case clinched it for Clarrie. Young had missed filing 16 years of tax returns, and his circumstances gave rise to far greater sympathy than one could muster for Clarrie. Even so, the Court of Appeal showed no mercy for Young. Two of the three appeal judges in Young’s case were sitting in Bar Association v Stevens.

See report in Theodora

Before the final curtain was rung down the court heard further gruesome details of Clarrie’s deep-seated aversion to paying tax.

It was not disputed that he owed one of his old clients, the Australian Taxation Office, $1.78 million as of September 2002. (Apparently he has since repaid $1.17 million but still owes a whopping $1.6 million – $1 million of which is in interest and penalties.)

However, counsel for the NSW Bar Association, Peter Garling SC, suggested that before orders were made, he should put to the court some fresh allegations of Clarrie’s fiscal loucheness.

These involved the three tax returns Clarrie did get around to filing in 1999, 2000 and 2002, which the Bar alleged understated his real income by $600,000 over the three years.

Clarrie was clearly up to his neck in it, prompting a flicker of compassion from the bench.

“Why is it necessary to go further than the non-payment of tax?” asked Justice Ipp. “You’ve got a belt, you don’t need braces.”

Roddy (right) expressed sympathy with this view but, after consulting with Sheller, allowed Garling to outline the whole of Clarrie’s history of tax evasion and conviction.

The former paragon of legal virtue (he once chaired the Bar & Grill’s education committee) listened impassively, flanked by his pastel pink, linen-clad wife Thalia, and their son.

Paul Brereton SC made a valiant final submission in Clarrie’s defence.

He told the court his client “should not be seen as lost forever to the legal profession”.

He reminded their Honours that Clarrie had in fact repaid $1.1 million of his $1.7 tax debt.

“Mr Stevens has ultimately paid much more tax than many people would in their whole lives,” he said. This elicited a muffled guffaw from the assembled scribes.

The fresh matter concerning the understatement of income only came to light as Clarrie grudgingly coughed-up documents in answer to subpoenas.

Initially, he provided to the Bar’s lawyers a pile of lunch bills from The Australian Club and accounts from Royal Sydney Golf Club – hardly fulsome records of his “financial affairs since October 1, 1977” (the date he was called to the Grill and the date from which he failed to lodge tax returns).

Just as Clarrie never satisfactorily complied with the subpoenas for financial records, Thalia too was a bit flaky in attending court in answer to subpoenas.

Clarrie explained, on one occasion, she wasn’t available because they had just moved into her newly purchased flat at Cremorne Point and Thalia was unpacking boxes.

The Court of Appeal has reserved its reasons, but it was all over, bar the shouting. Still to come will be the ignominy of having the silk stripped from his shivering frame. A sorry end to a glittering career.

See Justinian’s previous reports on Clarrie’s Capers