Professional discipline continues to thrive at Fountain Court Chambers, enabling members at all levels of Call to respond to the challenge of rapid changes to the regulation of the professions, (particularly the legal professions), as well as an increase in professional disciplinary disputes. Four key factors stand behind the set’s growing reputation here.
(1) First among these is Fountain Court’s long-standing history in professional disciplinary matters: Members have appeared over many years in disciplinary proceedings and related High Court litigation concerning professionals and other regulated persons. This has included cases against auditors and accountants arising out of many of the major company failures of the last twenty years, including both BCCI and Equitable Life. This history brings continuity to our work in these areas and has permitted the development of significant depth of experience within Chambers.
(2) Second is the diversity of experience within Chambers, which very few other sets can match. Alongside our experience with auditors and accountants, our members have market-leading practices in legal services regulation – in particular the regulation of both solicitors (whether that be major law firms, or acting in all of the major Miners’ Compensation cases) and barristers; the regulation of medical professionals; (we have advised the General Medical Council, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and the Royal College of Surgeons, to name but three); the regulation of architects (acting for the ARB); the regulation of accountants, and sporting regulatory bodies.
(3) Third is Chambers’ keen awareness of the links between the professions and the commercial contexts within which they frequently practice – in particular relating to the formulation, sale or operation of financial products. Modern regulatory issues frequently arise against a complex commercial background and Chambers’ position as a magic-circle commercial set means that our members are ideally placed to grapple with the complex issues of law and fact to which this gives rise.
(4) Last is our voluntary activity in support of the profession we are part of, and supporting the development of professional discipline and regulatory lawyers generally. Members of chambers have been or are active in the Bar Council, the Bar Standards Board and the Association of Disciplinary and Regulatory Lawyers.
With excellent institutional relationships with all the key regulatory bodies – the Legal Services Board, the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board, ILEX, and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, and their panel solicitors, the set has advised many of those regulators about necessary changes to their legal status brought about by the Legal Services Act 2007, and the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
Fountain Court is involved in many cases of legal and public importance on behalf of clients. A number of members of chambers acted in the 2014 test case of Lumsdon and others v Legal Services Board, with the Bar Standards Board, SRA, Ilex and the Law Society as interested parties (the so-called ‘QASA’ judicial review) in which the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Brian Leveson, upheld the validity of a regulatory scheme to measure the competency of criminal advocates, as both “proportionate and lawful.” The case illustrates the strong standing in which members of Fountain Court are held in regulatory matters, in a case of considerable importance to criminal lawyers and barristers in particular.
Many of the matters in which we are instructed also contain an accountancy element, in appearing before the Accountants’ Joint Disciplinary Scheme in numerous disciplinary proceedings. The range of AADB regulatory and disciplinary matters on which we have been consulted is at least equivalent in standing to the SRA work handled by others in the set.
Our members’ accountancy disciplinary practice has seen instructions in various disciplinary proceedings involving the Big Four accountancy practices including successfully establishing the allegations of misconduct against Deloitte arising from MG Rover leading to a fine of £14m.
Our test case representation can also be seen in one instance where, alongside members appearing for the Bar Council pro bono, we also represented the ICAEW before the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in R (Prudential) v Special Commissioner of Income Tax, in November 2012, on whether legal professional privilege should extend to accountants giving legal advice on tax.