Chch lawyer failed to pay taxes for 11 years

Lawyer Christopher Persson didn't pay tax for nearly 11 years. Photo: File image / Getty
Lawyer Christopher Persson didn't pay tax for nearly 11 years. Photo: File image / Getty
A retired lawyer has been suspended from practice for nine months for failing to pay $223,000 in tax over the course of 11 years.

Christopher Persson’s suspension follows a conviction in the Christchurch District Court in 2022 after he pleaded guilty to 22 counts of failing to file his tax returns from his legal practice since 2010.

Despite the size of the sum, Persson was able to settle the balance before his hearing commenced but still received a sentence of five months’ home detention.

Now, despite giving up his practising certificate and having since retired, the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal have opted to suspend Persson from the roll of barristers and solicitors for nine months.

“Mr Persson’s repeated failure to keep promises to the IRD to file returns and pay his taxes is reprehensible and an aggravating feature, particularly for a lawyer,” the tribunal’s decision reads.

“Mr Persson’s approach to his tax problems was one of avoidance, which we also regard as a disturbing reaction in a lawyer. Although he had the funds available to make any payments that were due, he made no responses to the 70 approaches made by the IRD.”

The tribunal also noted that Persson claimed a Covid-19 wage subsidy during the pandemic despite already being “enormously in debt to the taxpayer” at the time.

It also pointed out this wasn’t Persson’s first conviction for tax avoidance, with him having been convicted of the same offence in 2006.

At the hearing held last year, Persson’s lawyer, Nicholas Till KC, said the Canterbury earthquakes had disrupted him both professionally and personally, which led to him essentially “burying his head in the sand” when it came to paying his taxes.

The tribunal acknowledged Persson was primarily a legal aid lawyer, which it described as “a demanding and at times unrewarding area of the law, and one in which many practitioners are reluctant to engage”.

Persson voluntarily stopped practising in February 2022, and Till argued on his behalf that a suspension wasn’t necessary because of this.

He instead asked that the tribunal consider a symbolic suspension in which they would condemn his conduct as being serious enough to ordinarily warrant that level of punishment without actually imposing it.

Counsel for the Law Society’s standards committee prosecuting Persson, Natalie Town, said his conduct was a significant departure from the standards expected of a lawyer.

“Lawyers are expected to pay tax just like everybody else,” she said at last year’s hearing.

The suspension means Persson cannot come out of retirement to practice as a lawyer for at least nine months, if he hypothetically intended to do so. He must also pay nearly $5000 in legal costs to the Law Society.

Persson declined to comment for this article.

By Jeremy Wilkinson
Open Justice multimedia journalist