ACCA member pays almost £3k for assault convictionby
Member Jonathan Sturgess was ordered to pay costs of £2,992 by the ACCA last month after failing to notify them of a previous conviction for assault.
Sturgess was admonished after a previous conviction dating from February 2020 came to light involving a domestic assault the ACCA member committed.
Sturgess has been a member of the ACCA since 2006 and later a Fellow from 2011.
On 14 February 2020, Sturgess was convicted at Redditch Magistrates Court for the offence of assault by beating. The Court memorandum of an entry in the Register refers to it being a ‘domestic violence case’.
Although he pleaded not guilty, Sturgess was convicted by the Judge and a month later was sentenced to:
- A community order for 12 months.
- A 10-day rehabilitation activity requirement.
- An unpaid work requirement of 100 hours to be completed within 12 months.
A restraining order was also made against him lasting until 08 March 2021.
The disciplinary report states that Sturgess had been looking to appeal the decision, but missed the deadline. He also considered asking the court to re-open the case for a retrial.
Dishonest declaration alleged
Seven days after his conviction, but several weeks before his sentence, Sturgess submitted to ACCA his annual CPD declaration for 2019.
The declaration requires that the member confirms that:
- The information given in the form is true and accurate to the best of their knowledge.
- They have not been subject to any disciplinary or other matters which may engage bye-law 8.
- They have not been subject to any criminal conviction and/or caution that has not already been brought to the attention of ACCA’s Assessment or Investigations Departments.
As Sturgess signed his declaration soon after his recent conviction, it was the ACCA’s case that Sturgess had not complied with his duty to inform them of the conviction.
The report states the ACCA alleged that these actions were dishonest in that Sturgess “actively set out to hide” his conviction.
In a written response to ACCA during November 2020, Sturgess stated:
“I’d like to apologise for my oversight on signing my CPD declaration and not reporting the conviction that I have been charged with. This was a genuine error… I am aware of the high standard of professionalism and ethics required by the ACCA and I can assure you that these requirements are of the highest importance to me.”
At the outset, Sturgess formally requested that the hearing be held entirely privately. Mr Law, on behalf of the ACCA, was more than happy to proceed keeping matters of Sturgess’ health and personal affairs private but objected to extending that to the entirety of the hearing.
The report states Law argued that much of the information in this case was in the public domain as a result of the criminal proceedings and that it would be wrong, therefore, for the public to be excluded for the entirety of the hearing.
The Committee ordered that there be a public hearing, save that matters relating to health and Sturgess’ private life be treated in confidence.
During the hearing, Sturgess admitted to three allegations:
- He was liable to disciplinary action by virtue of his conviction on 14 February 2020 for the offence of assault by beating.
- He inaccurately declared in his annual CPD declaration to ACCA of 21 February 2020 that he was not the subject of a conviction.
- Between 14 February 2020 and 13 October 2020, he failed to inform the ACCA that he may have become liable to disciplinary action by way of his conviction.
The chair formally announced that those matters were found proved.
Sturgess stated that his failure to disclose the conviction to ACCA was an “oversight” on his part and “not one that he was proud of”. He explained that he had been extremely stressed at the time of the declaration, causing him to act “out of character”.
For this reason, Sturgess did not admit to the fourth allegation that he had acted dishonestly, lacked integrity or that he was guilty of misconduct, explaining that his failure to disclose was not done purposefully.
He added that he did not condone violence in any form and offered his “sincere regret and apology” in a bid to keep his ACCA qualification.
To further assist his case, Sturgess submitted personal statements from people in his life such as his CFO, his MD, his fianceé and probation officer in support of his “conduct, honesty and integrity”.
The Committee found the fourth allegation not proved. It simply found that he was liable to disciplinary action.
The Committee said that “the purpose of sanctions was not to punish Sturgess, but to protect the public, maintain public confidence in the profession and maintain proper standards of conduct, and that any sanction must be proportionate.”
The Committee did not think it appropriate to take no further action in a case where a member had received a criminal conviction for assault, which is “discreditable to the ACCA and the accountancy profession”. It believed that an admonition was an appropriate sanction.
Consultant for Blake Morgan LLP Chris Cope comments:
This was a remarkable outcome for two reasons. Mr Sturgess not only made a false statement in his CPD declaration just seven days after his conviction, that he had not been subject to a conviction, but, in the following eight months, he made no disclosure to the ACCA about that conviction. Mr Sturgess’ explanation for these failings was:-
- Oversight when completing the form.
- Ignorance about the need to disclose.
The Committee accepted the explanation and decided that there had been no misconduct. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the Committee also agreed that there had been no dishonesty or lack of integrity.
Secondly, although the report tells us nothing about the assault by beating, other than that it was a domestic matter, it is surprising that, in respect of three separate complaints (the conviction, the inaccurate form and the failure to disclose), the sanction was no higher than an admonition.
The ACCA sought costs of £5,984. The Committee awarded costs of £2,992 (50%) taking into account the fact that the serious allegations (dishonesty, lack of integrity and misconduct) had not been upheld. This seems entirely fair.
One should also give due credit to Mr Sturgess for achieving such an excellent outcome without legal representation. However, anyone in similar circumstances, should always seek professional advice or speak to their regulator.
Mr Sturgess decided to act in person. Even if another accountant decides to do so, they should always get legal advice beforehand. That's where the team at Blake Morgan can also assist.