Commentary: Self-regulation runs out of time

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The Independent Online
Fans of City self-regulation are not going to be filled with new year cheer by the reports of the accountancy profession's joint disciplinary scheme on the celebrated Lloyd's insurance market affairs of Alexander Howden Holdings, Minet Holdings and WMD Underwriting Agencies.

For two members to be exonerated is fair enough. But for another eight - some of whom were alleged to have played central roles - to be let off the hook on the grounds that too much time has elapsed for there to be a fair inquiry looks like a whitewash. The authorities say that if they were seeking such an outcome they would not have referred the matters for investigation. But an organisation seeking to be taken seriously for controlling its members' work cannot get away with explanations along the lines of 'It was all such a long time ago. It's just one of those things.'

Much of the delay arises from the time taken by the Committee of Lloyd's and then the Department of Trade and Industry to investigate events that in some cases happened more than 20 years ago. But to say after more than 18 months of work that those under investigation would 'suffer serious prejudice' if there were an inquiry now must appear a little rich to anybody who lost out as a result of the dealings under scrutiny.

Nor is it acceptable for the joint disciplinary scheme, which operates on behalf of the English and Scottish institutes and the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, to say that it cannot act until asked to. Rather, it is a convincing reason for the professional bodies with all their arcane rules and practices to be deprived of a regulatory role.