Is the Government's war on the professionals about to be extended?

Dentists have been more or less forced out of the National Health Service as the Government looks to put the costs largely on you and me. Lawyers' fees are being driven down to the point barristers are threatening to strike as the Government seeks to trim the Legal Aid bill.

Are auditors next? Does anyone care?

The Company Law Reform Bill could lead to seven year jail sentences for auditors who make mistakes, even if the errors were genuine and involved no fraud or dishonesty.

Accountants could also be struck off.

Malcolm Winston, senior partner at the Birmingham office of UHY Hacker Young, claims the Bill proposed by the Department of Trade and Industry is "ludicrous".

He said: "The proposed punishments are wholly disproportionate and could discourage candidates from entering the profession."

It will undermine British competitiveness. Another example of needless red tape. "UK accountants already work to very rigorous and exacting standards and there is no evidence that this type of sanction is necessary. The proposed legislation would simply increase compliance costs, which would ultimately be passed on to clients." However the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is largely backing the Government.

It states: "Liability reform is not about protecting those at fault from the consequences of their own actions, it is about ensuring that the level of damage is proportionate to the level of wrongdoing."

Yet it too is concerned that the inclusion of the words "knowingly or recklessly" could well result in criminal charges where there has been an honest mistake.

It added: " The consequences of this are that the audit profession will be much more risk averse and less willing to exercise judgement than at present: precisely the opposite of the desired effect."

No-one much loves auditors - they are a necessary evils.

And they haven't exactly covered themselves in glory in spotting directors up to no good in scandals such as Enron.

Nevertheless they do play a vital role in business at all sorts of levels. Not just spotting wrong-doing.

I am talking straightforward business controls, an independent guide to directors of just where their company stands.

Directors, however strong their grip on the figures, can learn from audits.

But if auditors are going to be cowed into a corner, frightened to exercise proper judgement for fear of going to prison, then an audit will become no more than a tickbox exercise.

And once again the law of unintended consequences will come into play - just like it did on pensions.

The first thing Gordon Brown did when Labour came to power was to remove tax relief on pensions, and our pension system is now in ruins.

Rogue auditors deserve no sympathy, like any other professional bad apple, but to throw baby out with the bathwater would be crazy.