Sir Peter Kemp – Credits and discredits

It is reported that the English ICA Disciplinary Committee severely reprimanded Sally-Anne Croft, an institute member, and fined her #1,000.

Her offence – that of being convicted, in 1995 in the US, of conspiracy to murder, as a member of a truly freaky sect which plotted to kill a US state attorney – was bringing discredit on the profession.

Croft served two years and four months in a US jail, and is now back home.

Now, this report makes one think about the institute. There is no doubt that, in the old days, the concept of ‘bringing discredit on the profession’ was a very real one, attracting real penalty. And even today, we have, we hope, a considerable amount of pride in ourselves; members of the institute who steal money or fiddle their tax returns, are clearly guilty of bringing discredit on the rest of us. (So are people guilty of making a mess of major audits, but they appear rather safer, and that’s another story.)

But as we move outwards into other sins – for instance, drink-driving or personal acts of violence – this question of ‘discredit’ starts to look less convincing. And when we get to Ms Croft’s case, some might think it truly irrelevant.

Not many people, if they followed the case at all, knew that Ms Croft was a member of the institute; and if they did, not many of them will have said ‘I don’t think that is the way a chartered accountant should behave’; and, so far as deterrent goes, not many people, tempted to conspiracy to murder are going to say ‘I must not do that, I am a chartered accountant’.

The committee had two issues. First, was there ‘discredit’? Arguable, but suppose we agree that discredit is a seamless concept and, however distantly, it arose in this case. What then about the penalty?

The committee could have taken the view that such behaviour merited exclusion permanently or temporarily, and from the reports, this was evidently considered and rejected. Or they could simply have expressed clear regret for any damage to the institute that had been caused and clear disapproval of Ms Croft as a member for causing it – or something like that.

What they actually did in the event, however – the ‘severe reprimand’ and the fine of #1,000 – simply fell between two stools and looked comical and petty. Halfway houses are seldom any good, and risk in themselves bringing the profession into derision, as indeed this one did.

This whole area needs revisiting as part of the present review of professional regulation.

Sir Peter Kemp is chief executive of the Foundation for Accountancy and Financial Management.

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