Outlook: A judge sees through Chinese walls
Wednesday 16 September 1998
The big accountancy practices are among the most active in construction of these walls, as indeed they have to be, having shrunk first from the big eight to the big six, then the big five. Now finally someone has had the gumption to challenge them.
High court judges are not generally noted for their common sense, but in Mr Justice Pumpfrey we have been treated to a rare example of clear thinking from the judiciary. The judge is sceptical in the extreme about the effectiveness of Chinese walls and is rightly of the opinion that KPMG should not have acted for the Brunei Investment Agency in investigating the affairs of Prince Jefri when it had already spent two years acting on his behalf.
Most of us would find this a statement of the blindingly obvious, as indeed Allan & Overy, the City lawyers, did in the same circumstances. Not KPMG, which seems to believe that accountants are different from others. It is to be hoped that the ruling sets a precedent that will help reverse the consolidating trend towards ever fewer accountancy practices and encourage the development of new and smaller partnerships.
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