A prominent Sydney barrister can return to work as a director or senior manager of an insurance company after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal overturned his disqualification.
Two years ago the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) disqualified Robert Stitt QC based on its view that Stitt had, in the exercise of his duties on the HIH Insurance board, failed to act with due care and diligence.
But the Tribunal has now rejected each one of the allegations, finding instead that he acted competently and diligently.
The Tribunal, headed by former Federal Court judge Brian Tamberlin QC, produced a 22-page judgment this week upholding Stitt's challenge to the disqualification.
The Tribunal said "cogent, consistent and uncontradicted" evidence about Stitt's competence and character from insurance experts and top lawyers was an important factor in the decision.
The Tribunal judgment said that Stitt had relied on the "long-standing experience" of investment banking adviser Colin Richardson of SG Hambros.
It also criticised APRA for neglecting to call its own expert witnesses on industry standards.
"That is not to say that such evidence would be determinative but, in this case, it would have been useful in evaluating the level of competence which should be applied in considering the conduct of Mr Stitt," the Tribunal said.
Stitt, 68, an insurance barrister, was admitted to the bar in 1968. He was made a QC in 1983, and was appointed a director of HIH Insurance shortly before it listed in 1992.
HIH collapsed in 2001 with an estimated deficiency of $5.2 billion, the biggest corporate collapse in Australian history.
As The Australian newspaper reports, Stitt had been a director of HIH throughout the saga. He was disqualified over a number of directors' duties issues, including three errors the board made: buying health insurance group CareAmerica in late 1996; the purchase of FAI Insurance in late 1998; and a joint venture agreement it entered into with Allianz Insurance in late 2000.
Evidence was provided that HIH's board of directors and its auditors, Andersen, had not been presented with all relevant information by HIH management before the board made its decisions.
Stitt is well known as a barrister specialising in insurance, defamation and other areas of commercial law.