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FSA chief’s warning on upsurge in legal challenges

The Times: FSA chief’s warning on upsurge in legal challenges

“CALLUM McCARTHY, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, hit out last night at the soaring number of lawsuits against the City regulator in what appeared to be a veiled swipe at Sir Philip Watts, the former chairman of Shell.”

By Patrick Hosking, Investment Editor

September 22, 2004

CALLUM McCARTHY, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, hit out last night at the soaring number of lawsuits against the City regulator in what appeared to be a veiled swipe at Sir Philip Watts, the former chairman of Shell.

Speaking at a Mansion House dinner, Mr McCarthy told City leaders that the growing number of legal challenges against the FSA threatened to add to costs and delay decisions. The warning came five days after Sir Philip instructed lawyers to start proceedings against the watchdog, accusing it of treating him unfairly in its investigation into Shell’s reserves misreporting.

“The UK has traditionally enjoyed over North America the advantage of being a less litigious society,” Mr McCarthy said. “There is much to be lost if that advantage is eroded.”

Natural justice demanded that firms and individuals had the right to challenge FSA decisions, he added.

“But I think we should all recognise that if this occurs it inevitably leads to delay and to additional costs. It will mean the FSA having to devote more resources to enforcement.”

The enforcement department costs £25 million a year to run, 12 per cent of the FSA budget. Firms and individuals are increasingly challenging the FSA in the Financial Services and Markets Tribunal.

Twelve cases were referred to the tribunal in 2002, 23 last year and 24 so far this year. The tribunal hears cases de novo, or from scratch, allowing new evidence to be heard, which makes the process more costly than a straightforward appeal.

Mr Watts plans to take the FSA to the tribunal, accusing it of treating him unfairly when it fined Shell £17 million for misleading shareholders over its oil and gas reserves.

The FSA is also embroiled in a courtroom battle with Legal & General, which is appealing against a £1.1 million fine for endowment mis-selling. The speculator Paul “The Plumber” Davidson is also fighting a £750,000 fine from the FSA for market abuse.

Mr McCarthy hoped that confidence would be maintained in the FSA’s Regulatory Decisions Committee, which metes out penalties, without a dramatic increase in tribunal references.

“It is in all our interests — not simply the FSA’s — that this should happen.”

An FSA spokeswoman said Mr McCarthy’s comments should not be attributed to any individual case. “It’s about a trend,” she said.

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