Ian Abrams is a Fee-paid Lay Member of the Upper Tribunal, Tax and Chancery
Chamber. He is a former stockbroker and investment banker and continues to
sit on a number of boards in the financial services sector.
The Tax and Chancery Chamber of the Upper Tribunal hears appeals from the
Tax Chamber and General Regulatory Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal. It also
hears references of various decisions taken by the Financial Services
Authority, the Pensions Regulator, the Bank of England and HM Treasury.
These references are known as financial services cases.
I always planned that when I reached my mid 50s I
would do something different.
I had been working in the City since I was 21 starting out by spending three-and-a-half years
qualifying as an actuary and then moving into
stockbroking. I spent the rest of my career in
broking and investment banking.
In my early 50s, I was a Managing Director of a
Japanese Investment Bank and I broached the
subject of working for the tribunal with the
company’s President. He was extremely
enthusiastic. He felt that it was good for the
company’s reputation and also showed “good
citizenship”. Although, at that stage, I was working
full-time as Managing Director, I was confident that
I could find the time.
The tribunal role played to all my experience - from quite a young age I had moved
into management, becoming responsible for business organisation, infrastructure and
regulatory issues, which were all relevant to the tribunal position.
I was appointed in 2000 and was one of the original members of the Financial
Services and Markets Tribunal as it was then.
I believe panel members perform a really useful role for the tribunal. It is our job to
say ‘this is how someone from the sector would look at this, these are the
responsibilities that a particular individual would have and this is what would be
expected of them ’. This is particularly important for financial services cases as the
judge may often not be familiar with how financial markets work as, for someone who
does not work in financial services, it can be difficult to understand the nuances. For
example, I have had practical experience of the responsibilities, the decision making
and of all of the various associated pressures. As a former Chief Executive, I know
exactly what the Financial Services Authority (FSA) believes falls within the
responsibility of that position.
Typical financial services cases may involve hearing appeals against penalties
handed down by the FSA for such things as market abuse, mis-selling and insider
dealing. Cases may also involve approvals which have been withdrawn by the FSA
from both companies and individuals for not running a fit and proper business. There
are quite often rather sad cases involving small advisory companies, which are not
being run properly, or have not co-operated with the regulator.
My mathematical background, which led me initially to become an actuary, also led to
my being approached to sit on tax cases. A case involving a large pharmaceutical
company came up which involved a lot of economic modelling. The tribunal needed
the help of a mathematician to assist with analysing the evidence of the expert
witnesses. The case settled in the end, but I started being asked to sit on other tax
cases. It did not take me long to understand the everyday taxation cases and the fact
that the tribunal gave me this opportunity is indicative of the fact that they are
interested in developing people.
This year has been busy with a lot of cases coming through. Prior to this year there
had been a period of about 18 months when I was not needed for any, but this year I
will hear three – two long cases, which can each take around three weeks, and one
short one which lasted three days.
The most challenging and important aspect of the role is the making of fair, correct
and proportionate decisions without jumping to any pre-conceived conclusions. There
is no science about this, but you cannot allow sentiment and emotion to creep in, and
sometimes in court it takes a lot of patience and a long time for the full story to come
out - especially when the appellant is not professionally represented.
I really enjoy the preparation – reading myself into the cases can be like reading a
novel. I also enjoy the interaction with my colleagues on the tribunal, particularly
working with the judges who are genuinely interested to hear the opinions of the
members and are never patronising to us!
To be considered suitable as a panellist, I believe that candidates need to
demonstrate that they can keep themselves current - particularly if they have retired.
Practices and standards change rapidly (when I started out in the 1970’s insider
trading was not a crime!). Candidates also need to think through the time
commitment. While you are not expected to be available for every case a reasonably
high level of acceptance is expected.