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In a series of recent rulings, the Upper Tribunal (UT), Tax and Chancery Chamber, has overturned decisions made by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), casting significant doubt on the effectiveness of the FCA’s enforcement mechanisms and the role of its Regulatory Decisions Committee (RDC). These decisions could have far-reaching implications for both financial service providers and the regulator itself

Traditionally, the RDC has been a pivotal part of the FCA’s enforcement structure. It serves as the initial adjudicatory body where enforcement actions are contested. However, these recent decisions by the UT have increasingly cast the RDC in a role resembling a rubber stamp for the FCA’s case teams, rather than a meaningful adjudicatory entity.

Key Insight: Given these developments, firms may begin to sidestep the RDC altogether, opting instead to take their cases directly to the UT, which appears more willing to challenge the FCA’s decisions and interpretations.

The Markou Case

In the case of Markou, the UT fundamentally disagreed with the RDC’s findings. It challenged the FCA’s understanding of the term “recklessness,” thereby setting a precedent that makes it far more difficult for the FCA to sustain such allegations in the future.

Key Insight: For firms and individuals under FCA investigation, the complexities surrounding the concept of “recklessness” mean that establishing this behaviour now requires clear evidence that the risk was recognised and deliberately ignored.

Julius Baer Employees

In this case, the UT was critical of the FCA for failing to establish either recklessness or a lack of integrity among Julius Baer employees. The Tribunal took issue with the FCA’s reliance on Julius Baer’s internal investigation, as opposed to performing its own thorough inquiry.

Key Insight: This case should serve as a cautionary tale for firms about the use and impact of their internal investigations. It may also push the FCA to conduct more rigorous and independent investigations moving forward.

BlueCrest Case

In this particular case, the UT was vociferously critical of the FCA’s Decision Notice against BlueCrest Capital Management, stating that it “demonstrates a considerable amount of muddled thinking.” This criticism was strong enough to lead BlueCrest to avoid the RDC stage altogether, opting for a public case before the UT.

Key Insight: This case suggests that firms may increasingly consider skipping the RDC phase and taking their disputes straight to the UT, which has shown a disposition towards scrutinising the FCA’s case handling and legal interpretations.

While fluctuations in enforcement dynamics are to be expected, especially where grey areas of the law are concerned, these recent UT decisions target core aspects of the FCA’s enforcement strategy. They serve as a bellwether for future cases and indicate a clear shift in the regulatory landscape.

The UT’s boldness in overturning FCA decisions and its critiques of the FCA’s methods could be a game-changer for how enforcement actions are contested. Firms should keep a vigilant eye on these evolving trends as they consider their legal and compliance strategies.

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