Scott v SRA [2016] EWHC 1256 (Admin), is the latest case to grapple with the vexed question of what is meant by a lack of integrity.  The requirement to act with integrity is set out in Principle 2 of the SRA Code of Conduct.  However, unlike dishonesty, there is no clear formula as to how to apply this in practice.  There have been a series of cases in the Financial Services and Markets Tribunal which have attempted a definition.  

In Hoodless & Blackwell[1], the Tribunal described it as such:

In our view 'integrity' connotes moral soundness, rectitude and steady

adherence to an ethical code. A person lacks integrity if unable to appreciate the distinction between what is honest or dishonest by ordinary standards. (This presupposes, of course, circumstances where ordinary standards are clear. Where there are genuinely grey areas, a finding of lack of integrity would not be appropriate.)

The matter was further considered in Vukelic v FSA[2], where the Tribunal observed:

We do not disagree with what is said about integrity in Hoodless & Blackwell but we do not take [the description] as being a comprehensive test of which is of application beyond the facts of that case. In an area of life giving rise to circumstances of great variety and complexity there may well be many other circumstances in which the FSA could fairly conclude that an applicant lacked integrity, a concept elusive to define in a vacuum but still readily recognisable by those with specialist knowledge and/or experience in a particular market.”

The Financial Services and Markets Tribunal returned to the issue again in Batra v FCA[3] and, after quoting the passage from Hoodless & Blackwell above stated as follows:

While the passage quoted above is useful guidance as to the meaning of the concept, the second sentence is clearly not the only circumstance in which a person can be said to lack integrity. In the subsequent cases of Vukelic v FSA (2009) at [23] and Atlantic Law LLP and Greystoke v FSA [2010] UKUT B30 (TCC) at [96], the Tribunal has cautioned against attempting to formulate a comprehensive definition of integrity. As the Tribunal in Vukelic observed, integrity remains a concept “elusive to define in a vacuum but still readily recognisable by those with specialist knowledge and/or experience in a particular market.” 

The Tribunal in First Financial Advisors Limited v FSA [2012] UKUT B16 30 (TCC) agreed with the observation in Vukelic and endorsed the guidance in Hoodless and Atlantic Law. At [119], the Tribunal observed: 

“Even though a person might not have been dishonest, if they either lack an ethical compass, or their ethical compass to a material extent points them in the wrong direction, that person will lack integrity.” 

We agree. A lack of integrity does not necessarily equate to dishonesty. While a person who acts dishonestly is obviously also acting without integrity, a person may lack integrity without being dishonest. One example of a lack of integrity not involving dishonesty is recklessness as to the truth of statements made to others who will or may rely on them or wilful disregard of information contradicting the truth of such statements. Such behaviour was found to be evidence of a lack of integrity by the Tribunal in Vukelic”

Helpful as these cases are in describing some of the aspects of a lack of integrity, the Administrative Court has stated that caution needs to be exercised in attempting to formulate an all encompassing definition. In the context of solicitors the question of lack of integrity was considered in SRA v Chan and others[4], where Lord Justice Davis observed as follows:

As to want of "integrity", there have been a number of decisions commenting on the import of this word as used in various regulations. In my view, it serves no purpose to expatiate on its meaning. Want of integrity is capable of being identified as present or not, as the case may be, by an informed tribunal or court by reference to the facts of a particular case.”

Scott v SRA has followed the latter approach.  Whilst it is helpful in some areas to have a toolkit to measure conduct, in relation to integrity it appears it will remain something that you know it when you see it.  A bit like the elephant in the room.

[1]Hoodless & Blackwell v FSA (3 October 2003)

[2] 13th March 2009

[3] [2014] UKUT 0214 (TCC) 

[4] [2015] EWHC 2659 (Admin)