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For those in the know the initials stand for "The only way is Essex", an erstwhile reality TV show, I understand, about fake tans, lovelorn boys, heaving bosoms and post teenage gossip. I have to confess that I have never actually seen the programme but for a variety of reasons the title keeps coming to mind; actually as a corruption of "The only way is ethics".

In our modern world our laws are becoming more prescriptive and certainly for professionals the hoops for jumping through, required by our regulating authorities, can make us wonder whether the likes of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Law Society actually have their members' interests at heart. I have seen over my professional life (52 years since I signed my articles, but this is not a history lesson) the role of our Institute move from a distant headmaster to a fully-fledged regulator, inspecting the work of its members in a distinctly hands on manner.

Whether those inspections identify the real problems I cannot tell, though quite a number of firms are put on report to improve their systems and standards, after visits from the reviewers. Having met a number of reviewers it is apparent that their knowledge of the regulations is very substantial but….? It has always intrigued me why these paragons should chose employment rather than practice. Some are retired and supplement their income, but others are obviously career regulators. But does being able to quote at length from the regulations indicate a full understanding of the underlying principles? Making decisions in a pressured environment is very different from reviewing the decisions of others with the benefit of hindsight.

I recently read a law report (sad, isn't it?) regarding a young lawyer acting for a fraudster who may (or may not) have become inveigled in his machinations causing a prosecution under the Money Laundering regulations. I actually read the details of the successful appeal and recognised the dangerous waters that all professionals skirt around. How far do you identify with your client?

Over recent years we have seen tax avoidance schemes being attacked by HMRC. I grew up (professionally) in the time of the Tucker schemes of the late 1960's and 1970's where high profile taxpayers were actually handed scripts getting them to perform certain actions to avoid tax and these led to a number of court cases, as the then Inland Revenue, sought to fight back the tide of some very imaginative tax planning. Somewhere, in my simple mind, there had to be a line that a professional should not cross, but where is (and was) that line?

As professionals we have a duty to do the best for our clients. I have always believed that but…? Looking back over 50 years in the profession I can recall manipulative clients, who sought to get me to do their dirty work for them. There may have been others who "pulled the wool" well and truly over my eyes and yet others who chose to go elsewhere rather than put me to the test. The problem is, that these "rogue" clients were never a frequent occurrence (I am pleased to report) so recognising them and dealing with the issues that arose were troubling and caused great angst at the time.

So we have prescriptive regulations and our duty to society on the one side and our duty to our clients on the other. Where do we go? Well, "The Only Way is Ethics"

 

David Ingall

Past President

UK 200 Group

 

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