Different Treatment, Same Outcome: Reconciling Co-operative Compliance with the Principle of Legal Equality

Alicja Majdanska, Jonathan Leigh Pemberton


The paper discusses whether the concept of co-operative compliance is consistent in practice with legal equality and administrative fairness.


The theoretical framework of the discussion is provided by an analysis of the principle of legal equality. We base our analysis on a comparison of how the principle is enshrined in the constitutions of Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. In choosing these jurisdictions, we took into consideration the following criteria: legal tradition, the existence and maturity of their respective co-operative compliance programmes, and their personal scope.


Based on this analysis, we identify basic criteria for assessing the compatibility of these programmes with the principle of legal equality in the three selected jurisdictions. We determine that programmes limited to procedural treatment should not violate the principle of legal equality. As large business taxpayers are differentiated by the complexity of their tax affairs and are usually the biggest contributors to revenues, designing a special programme that fits their needs and helps them to be compliant is reasonable and justified in the light of general rules of tax procedure and the objective of the enforcement of tax liabilities and tax duties. Nonetheless, if programmes involve some economic advantages (e.g. a reduction of a tax liability), they may be seen to be disproportionate and inconsistent with the overall goals of good tax administration. As a result, they may not be consistent with the principle of equality.

Keywords: co-operative compliance, equality, tax compliance, large business taxpayers

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