Passage of liability bill to come under scrutiny

TWO Jersey lawyers have been called to give evidence before a public inquiry to consider allegations that the island's controversial limited liability partnerships law was “fast-tracked” through its parliament, the States of Jersey.

Mourant du Feu & Jeune partner Ian James, who lobbied for the new law on behalf of Price Waterhouse, and former Jersey politician Reg Jeune, who is a consultant to the firm and used to be its senior partner, are two of the seven witnesses due to appear before the public hearing later this month.

Both men will be asked to give evidence about their roles in the introduction of the law following a heated debate in the States of Jersey, during which some members complained that the law had been rushed through the island's legislative process at the expense of other legislation.

The enquiry will investigate the time-tabling, preparation and presentation of the legislation, but will not delay the introduction of the new law – the first of its kind in Europe – which received the approval of the Privy Council in December and should come into force in late spring.

It is understood that the inquiry will not examine an allegation concerning Jeune made by one member of the States of Jersey. The claim is that Jeune, who was the head of Jersey's senior government body, the Policy and Resources Committee, until he retired in December, improperly used his influence to speed the passage of the legislation.

The allegation has been rigorously denied by Jeune and prompted the States of Jersey to suspend the senator who made the claim from the chamber after he refused to withdraw it.

To date, two Big Six accountancy firms have expressed an interest in registering in Jersey to take advantage of the new law when it comes into force. Leading City firms have said they are watching developments closely.

Law firms and accountants are also awaiting the publication of a government white paper on a new law for the UK which is expected in March.

According to the magazine Accountancy Age, the UK law will only allow limited liability partnerships for firms which possess more than 30 partners, although this has been denied by the DTI.

The Jersey committee of inquiry, chaired by senator Dick Shenton, has already received written evidence from a number of interested parties, including the new head of the Policy and Resources Committee.