Legal Services Board enlists top Northern Ireland firm to investigate oversight of Axiom Ince

Carson McDowell will examine “regulatory events” leading up to Solicitors Regulation Authority’s intervention into firm
April 13 2019: Image taken of Aldgate Tower at 2 Leman Street, London E1 8FA. Aldgate station was not busy as this was taken on a weekday late afternoon.

Ince’s former headquarters at Aldgate Tower Mrtravelbunny; Shutterstock

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has commissioned leading Northern Ireland law firm Carson McDowell to review the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA’s) oversight of the law firm Axiom Ince in the run up to its collapse.

Carson McDowell will be tasked with examining the “regulatory events leading up to the SRA’s intervention into Axiom Ince”, the LSB said in a statement.

The LSB – which oversees the England and Wales legal profession’s approved regulators – will publish the terms of reference of the independent review in January and aim for it to report in the spring.

“This was a significant case with considerable consumer detriment,” the LSB explained. “In the board’s view, it will be important for public and professional confidence that any learning can be identified with independence, and that any conclusions that may be drawn are based on an objective assessment of the facts.”

The choice of Carson McDowell to conduct the review is explained by the fact that, as a Northern Ireland-based law firm, it is not regulated by the LSB. The firm is ranked in Band 1 by Chambers and Partners in the field of public and administrative law.

Welcoming the review, Law Society of England and Wales chief executive Ian Jeffery, said: “As the oversight body responsible for assessing and monitoring effective and transparent regulatory performance, the LSB has the necessary investigation and enforcement powers to ensure that the events and actions relating to this very serious incident are fully brought to light.”

The SRA took control of Axiom Ince in October after discovering that around £66m of client money was missing, leading to an unprecedented flood of claims totalling £33m at the last count.

Its oversight of the firm has come under considerable scrutiny given Axiom Ince’s rapid expansion this year through the purchase out of administration of shipping firm Ince in April and national insurance firm Plexus in July just weeks before its collapse.

Last month, the SRA said it was not planning to impose an additional levy on solicitors to fund compensation claims generated by the collapse, although it warned of  a “longer-term question” around compensation given “the increasing number and size of interventions in recent years”.

The Axiom Ince scandal first hit the headlines in August when the SRA suspended managing partner Pragnesh Modhwadia for suspected dishonesty along with two other directors for allegedly breaching solicitors’ rules.

On 14 November, the Serious Fraud Office made seven arrests and raided nine sites across the South East of England in connection with the firm’s collapse.

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