SFA faces challenge over responsibility

The Securities and Futures Authority (SFA), the City regulator, is coming under increased pressure to drop its controversial proposals to make top banking executives responsible for calamitous failures of their financial firms after the discovery that the rules breach European law.

The proposals were born out of frustration and public outcry at the SFA's inability to discipline Peter Baring, chairman of Barings, and his deputy, Andrew Tuckey, the two men who were running the bank when it collapsed last year.

The regulations, which have already met with stiff opposition in the City, would shift the burden of proof in disciplinary cases so that senior executives would have to prove they acted properly rather than the SFA having to show that they failed in their duties.

According to legal advice sought by the Association of Private Client and Investment Managers and Stockbrokers (Apcims), a trade body, such a move would violate the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

"We have received advice that the proposed rule would violate Article 6 of that convention," Apcims said in a letter to the SFA.

Article 6 establishes several safeguards that must be extended to any individual in "the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charges against him".

It states: "Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law".

Apcims accepts that "the buck has to stop somewhere". But it believes the SFA's proposals on executive responsibility are an over-reaction to the Barings scandal.