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Exclusive: Accountants abandon bid to train up their own litigators and advocates – for now

ICAEW: continuing application

Accountants who want to offer tax litigation and advocacy services under an expanded regulatory regime will have to employ a lawyer after the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) abandoned its attempt to train up its own members.

Duncan Wiggetts, executive director of professional standards at the ICAEW, said the change of heart followed the failure of talks with legal education providers.

However, he made it clear to the Legal Services Board (LSB) that the ICAEW is continuing its application to regulate reserved instrument work in tax cases, notarial activities and the administration of oaths. Members can already gain probate rights.

In the letter to the LSB to amend the application, Mr Wiggetts said the providers did not want to “undertake development work on the higher-risk qualifications for civil and criminal litigation and advocacy until the ICAEW is clear what the decision is on its application”.

He went on: “This is because training courses for these reserved legal services are more expensive to develop and run than for the lower-risk activity of reserved instruments. The commercial risk to them of doing so is too high.

“Furthermore, even if ICAEW’s application were to be approved, the demand for qualifications for litigation and advocacy will still remain very uncertain as these courses will be lengthy and costly and firms may well prefer to employ a solicitor or barrister to carry out these activities, rather than train an accountant to do so.”

Mr Wiggetts said a variation in standards across legal regulators would be “inappropriate” and the ICAEW wanted to develop courses and assessments in litigation and advocacy with a legal education provider “very experienced” in delivering the legal practice course (LPC) and Bar professional training course (BPTC), though it was not possible “in the short term to progress this”.

However, he said the ICAEW had found a university, experienced in running the LPC and BPTC, which had agreed to develop courses on reserved instrument activities and would “shortly be signing a memorandum of understanding” with it.

Mr Wiggetts promised that should the ICAEW be successful in its application to regulate reserved instrument work, notarial activities and the administration of oaths, it intended to carry out a survey of accountancy firms which had applied for accreditation to deliver litigation and advocacy.

He said that “should it turn out that there is sufficient demand”, the ICAEW would apply once again at an “appropriate time” to the LSB to authorise non-lawyers to carry out these activities, and work with a university to develop training courses.

The ICAEW, which already regulates probate activities, applied to the LSB to regulate the five other reserved legal activities in July.

The institute justified the move, which would apply at first only to tax work, on the grounds of increased competition, more one-stop shops and a better deal for consumers.

The LSB has until July this year to make a decision on the ICAEW’s revised application, unless it issues an extension notice.