Civil justice is readily available to the international super-rich but out of reach of most British citizens, according to a top City watchdog.
But John Griffith-Jones, chairman of the Financial Conduct Authority, believes it is the job of parliament to boost consumer redress by changing the law, rather than simply tinkering with the regulator’s rulebook.
Delivering an upbeat assessment of the FCA’s achievements since 2013 at an event held by lobby group TheCityUK, Griffith-Jones set out challenges for the next five years. One is what he described as a ‘mismatch’ between the external perception of the FCA’s powers and the reality of the legal constraints it faces. These include exposure to judicial review and ‘basic concepts of natural justice such as innocent until proven guilty’.
’In the grand scheme of things the checks and balances have worked reasonably well in my tenure,’ said Griffith-Jones. ’But I am struck by the inaccessibility to the law by the consumer, on the triple grounds of speed, complexity and cost.
’“Justice delayed is justice denied” has more than an element of truth to it in money matters,’ he continued, alluding to recent pressure from MPs for the regulator to publish its report into RBS’ small business restructuring unit GRG. 'A four-year legal process and a dense thicket of jurisprudential argument provide a far less attractive route to redress than the use of 24/7 media and the associated parliamentary support to pressurise the regulator to short circuit due process in contentious cases.
’I am further struck by the ready availability of civil justice in the UK to the globally wealthy, whilst out of financial reach to most British citizens.’
Griffith-Jones reflected that some issues on which consumer campaigns have run most strongly ’require a change in the social contract, and therefore logically the law, rather than in the FCA’s rulebook or the opinion of its leadership’.
Amid the GRG scandal, the FCA has recently faced calls to establish a tribunal system to deal effectively with financial disputes involving SMEs. The FCA points out that a more formal scheme of resolving disputes than expanding the present ombudsman scheme - such as a tribunal - would require legislation. But some lawyers have disputed this, pointing out that primary legislation already exists in the form of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.