SFA climbdown over City curbs

The Securities and Futures Authority (SFA) may be forced to drop the most controversial part of a new proposal for disciplining senior executives of City firms that get into serious financial trouble, writes Jill Treanor.

After a deluge of criticism, the SFA has agreed to re-open discussions with the City's main lobby groups over a planned shift in the burden of proof in disciplinary cases.

Under the SFA's proposals, senior executives would have to prove they acted correctly, rather than the present situation in which the SFA has to show they failed in their duties.

The rulebook changes were drawn up after the Barings collapse and were provoked by the furore surrounding the SFA's decision not to bring disciplinary action against Peter Baring, the chairman, and Andrew Tuckey, his deputy.

It is not clear whether the SFA is prepared to drop the proposed change in the burden of proof.

However, legal advice sought by the Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers (Apcims) suggests the move would violate the European convention for the protection of human rights.

The SFA's original aim was to introduce the plans by the end of last year although Nick Durlacher, chairman of the regulator, always expected the proposals to be greeted with controversy.

The SFA wants the rules to pin responsibility on a senior executive when firms run into difficulty.

The SFA received over 100 responses to the proposals, which were published in September. A final version of the proposals has yet to go to the SFA's board and looks unlikely to do so until further soundings are taken from lobby groups in the City.

"We have to get it right and put in proposals which are workable, enforceable and practicable and still achieve the thrust of our objectives," a spokesman for the SFA said.

Separately, Fidelity Brokerage is approaching a 31 January deadline set by the SFA to sort out back-office problems which have already cost the broking firm around 200 of its 35,000 clients.

"The SFA continues to closely monitor Fidelity's progress and will review which results have been achieved at the end of this month," an SFA spokesman said.