Equitable escapes libel suit despite ‘negligence’ claims

Ernst & Young (E&Y) has decided not to launch a defamation suit against Equitable Life despite Equitable’s continued claims that its audit work was negligent.

Following the settlement of the high-profile battle last week, Equitable chairman Vanni Treves said: “We remained confident of proving that Ernst & Young’s audit was negligent; indeed, even its own independent financial experts (KPMG) were unable to fully support the basis of the audit.”

The comment, which clearly suggests Treves still believes E&Y was negligent, led E&Y to consider a defamation suit.

However E&Y’s UK general counsel Victoria Cochrane confirmed that the accountant is not going to pursue a case for defamation. “We have fought defamation cases in the past – we use Farrers and they are very good – but you have to have suffered clear damage and I’m not sure that is the case here,” Cochrane told The Lawyer. “And to be honest, the thought of locking horns with Equitable again is not a pleasant one.”

However the battle is not over yet. Barlow Lyde & Gilbert’s Clare Canning led the E&Y defence with Mark Hapgood QC of Brick Court Chambers and Jonathan Gaisman QC of 7 King’s Bench Walk. The trio continue to defend Paul McNamara, the audit partner for Equitable at the firm, and Richard Combes, a former partner, in disciplinary proceedings at the accountancy regulator, the Joint Disciplinary Scheme (JDS). Those proceedings are on hold pending the result of Equitable’s case against its former directors.