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Compliance tip of the week: What is a precedent?


For years the business press has been full of outraged articles about the Financial Ombudsman Service laying down some deeply harmful precedent. Most of these are nonsense. 

First, when an FOS adjudicator writes to a firm with their view of the case, it is just that.

Second, either side can challenge adjudication so it has no binding impact unless it is accepted by both parties. Even accepted adjudications have no binding impact and they do not appear on the FOS database.

Finally, FOS decisions do not lay down precedents. They do appear on the database and should not be discussed by people who cannot be bothered to read the actual decision. It is only when something appears in Ombudsman News or an FOS paper that anything of wider application is likely to happen.

Even High Court decisions such as the BBA PPI ruling do not bind another court. You have to go to the Court of Appeal to generate any precedential value.

Adam Samuel is an independent compliance consultant



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