Victor Cramer is a Partner in Tax Litigation and Investigations. Prior to joining Stewarts, Victor spent 11 years in the tax litigation group of a Big Four accountancy firm, primarily focusing on VAT and indirect taxation. He has led cases at all levels, including the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), and has successfully acted as an advocate in the Tax Tribunal.
I joined Stewarts in January 2018 as a partner in the tax litigation team from the tax litigation team at KPMG.
My formative years were spent in the wilds of the Lancashire countryside, and spending my life at a desk in an office in London was not part of my thought process. I didn’t plan to be a lawyer and gave serious thought to joining the police or the army when I finished university. In fact, when clearing out my loft recently, I came across an old application form to join the Royal Marines. I recall withdrawing the application when I realised that the training would involve being shouted at by authority figures, and not being allowed to shout back. With hindsight, perhaps it is fitting that my job effectively amounts to disagreeing with the government.
I toyed with the idea of either a law degree or a philosophy degree. I concluded that law is basically philosophy with a career path, so I studied law. I still hadn’t settled on law as a career by the time I left university, and worked in industry for a few years, first with Microsoft. Then, I eased my way into law with a stint at the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), before taking a training contract with a small boutique litigation firm.
I enjoyed dealing with black letter law issues so a few years after qualification I started to look for opportunities to specialise. At the time, KPMG were recruiting for their VAT litigation team. The interview process was somewhat daunting. I recall being asked to read VAT Tribunal decisions about the supply of workspace to hairdressers and exotic dancers, and then having to discuss the way the Tribunal approached characterisation of the supply. None of these were issues with which I was familiar. Nevertheless, I realised that tax is effectively a verbal and conceptual jigsaw puzzle, and I like word games.
I specialise in the glamourous taxes: VAT, Landfill Tax, Insurance Premium Tax, and the never-exciting Aggregates Levy. I’m looking forward to the introduction of Plastic Packaging Tax in about 18 months for some variety. As a group, these taxes are often called “indirect taxes”, mostly to flummox non-tax specialists. The phrase is actually quite easy to explain, although doing so breaches the VAT practitioner’s code of silence. Indirect taxes are collected indirectly, with suppliers acting as HMRC’s tax collector. Direct taxes are collected directly by HMRC. But you didn’t hear that from me.
KPMG had some extremely bright lawyers and tax advisers, and fantastic clients across a range of industries. We took some highly interesting cases, and on a couple of occasions even got to change the law. After more than a decade in the same team, I felt the need for a new challenge, and the opportunity to talk to Stewarts came up at just the right time for me. Stewarts already had an excellent direct and commercial tax litigation team but was looking to expand its expertise in indirect tax matters.
I have really enjoyed the last three years at Stewarts. Looking back to the start of my legal career, it felt a bit like coming home. I have been given the time and support to set up a new practice area, and colleagues have been outstanding with introductions to clients I need to speak to. They’ve also taken the time to listen and help me develop new cases, even when I try to explain the connection between VAT, biscuits, insurance and pensions (there is one, honestly, and it’s only slightly tenuous). So many of my colleagues are at the absolute top of their game, but they combine it with charm and personality, and that makes them inspiring rather than terrifying.
There are many things I like about Stewarts, but one which stands out from a personal perspective is the firm’s list of core values: teamwork, innovation, manners and excellence. So many firms have lists of values which appear to have been chosen from a list of buzzwords, but I see colleagues at all levels demonstrate teamwork, innovation and excellence every day. And the requirement for manners isn’t an elitist, exclusionary thing; it isn’t about knowing which kind of spoon to use to stir up trouble. It’s about treating each other with respect, and recognising that everyone is different and has their own story. It makes for a very good, and a very human place to work.
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