The life and work of Paul de Voil

Not many tax advisers are awarded the ultimate accolade of a universally recognised textbook known for short by their surname. Paul de Voil was one of those, with his magisterial De Voil on VAT. He was also one of the earliest members of the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers, and it was fitting that the Company’s Tax History Group heard a detailed tribute to his life and work at their meeting on 28 September 2010 in Founders’ Hall, given by John Brown, CBE, another of our members. We were especially pleased that Paul’s son, Nick de Voil, was able to join us. John recalled Paul’s early childhood as a refugee from Nazi Germany, his adoption by a Church of Scotland minister and his successful academic career. Few who remembered him as a VAT expert perhaps realised that Paul never actually worked for Customs and Excise-he started his career as an Inspector of Taxes before working in the taxation functions of the Ford Motor and Lonrho groups as well as for Herbert Smith and Arthur Young among other professional firms. His great work on VAT first appeared in 1972, just before the tax itself, but the latter part of his career was spent as a chairman of VAT Tribunals and as a deputy Special Commissioner, a post he held from 1993 to his death in 2002. John reminded us of some of  the most sparkling passages in his judgements, combining wit, learning, references to classical and biblical texts and also genuine concern for the problems of the taxpayer, especially when faced with an intransigent taxing authority. Paul’s parallel career as a non-stipendiary minister in the Church of England led to his eloquent pronouncements of grace before CIOT and WCTA dinners, and John’s talk concluded with the words of the Company’s motto, which aptly summed up Paul’s character-Veritas, Caritas, Comitas (Truth, Charity and Fellowship).

David Williams

September 2010