The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has outlined plans which would enable accountants to carry out all the reserved legal activities, including litigation and rights of audience.
The ICAEW, which currently regulates only probates services, said its activities would be “restricted to the area of taxation”. It promised that, if successful, it would consider joining the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) scheme.
If successful, the move could allow accountants to claim legal professional privilege in their tax work, which they have long craved.
Currently a handful of accountancy firms have had alternative business structures licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, while the ICAEW has licensed 182 firms to conduct probate work.
The ICAEW said that following the consultation, it would submit the application to the Legal Services Board (LSB) for approval. It said that, subject to the LSB’s timetable, it hoped to be able to authorise firms and license ABSs within 14 months.
Publishing its draft application this morning, Vernon Soare, ICAEW executive director of professional standards, said: “The number of applications for authorisation and licensing for probate received during our first year as a regulator has far exceeded our expectations.
“Any further authorisation for legal services by ICAEW will be restricted to the service line of taxation. This is an obvious natural link for our members in traditional accountancy practices.
“The ability of our members to expand their offerings to include legal services has already increased access for consumers, which is clearly in the public interest.”
The ICAEW said that should its application be successful, so that it obtained rights of audience in the criminal courts, it “will be making contact with the Joint Advocacy Group about the QASA and whether or not it will be possible and/or necessary for those advocates it authorises to register for this scheme – should it be implemented”.
On indemnity insurance it said that firms licensed for further reserved legal activities would be required to carry a minimum of £500,000 cover per claim and the ICAEW’s current compensation scheme would be extended.
In the draft application, the ICAEW said its designation as a probate services regulator had “increased access to justice” and been in the public interest.
“We now wish to expand the reserved legal activities we regulate and in so doing help the government to further its aim of promoting competition in the market for legal services.”
The ICAEW went on: “Research carried out by ICAEW showed that accountancy firms are already providing taxation services that complement all reserved legal activities.
“The ability to carry out the reserved legal activities for taxation matters would therefore be an adjunct to their existing business and a natural link to the traditional accountancy practice.
“Furthermore, the success of our probate regulation shows that our processes are working well and we therefore have the capacity and capability to expand our sphere of legal services regulation to the activities we are applying to regulate.
“The increased competition will also be in the public interest and benefit the consumer as it should reduce fees due to services being provided in one place.”
The ICAEW argued that “the taxation work currently carried out by accountancy firms would be complemented by all the further reserved legal activities so the ability to conduct them would be an adjunct to their current services” and provide a natural link.
“For example, accountants currently represent clients before the tax tribunals of the General Regulatory Chamber and provide expert litigation support to solicitors relating to both civil and criminal actions. They also appear in court as expert witnesses.”
In conclusion the institute said: “The content of the application and the draft regulations, combined with ICAEW’s regulatory experience and the integrity of the accountancy membership should, in our view, provide the LSB with the necessary assurances required to approve this application.”