A complaint received by ICAEW can progress through our disciplinary process and can sometimes end in a hearing, at which witnesses may be asked to attend to provide oral evidence. We understand that acting as a witness can be challenging or daunting. This guide will help you understand the investigation and hearing processes, what to expect as a witness and what support is available.
Helping us with an investigation
Anyone (including colleagues, clients, and members of the public) can tell us if they have concerns about the conduct or competence of those we regulate (ie, an ICAEW member, firm, affiliate or student).
We investigate these concerns as part of our role to protect the public and to maintain high standards of professional competency and conduct.
When we receive a complaint, it goes to the Conduct Department, (which sits within the Professional Standards Department; the regulatory arm of ICAEW). A case manager will assess the complaint to determine whether there is potential liability to disciplinary action and whether it is appropriate for it to be taken to the next stage of investigation.
Once the Conduct Department is satisfied a matter should go to the next stage, the case manager will investigate further. They may gather information from the complainant, the individual who is the subject of the allegation and any other witnesses or relevant sources. It is at this point that a case manager may contact you as a potential witness to ascertain whether the evidence you can provide is relevant to the case.
A case manager will investigate the allegation even if the issue has already been investigated by another organisation, such as via an employer's own internal disciplinary process. Although ICAEW may share the same concerns as an employer, the purpose of our disciplinary processes is quite different and therefore we will need to gather our own evidence which supports the nature of our case.
An investigation may result in a matter being closed, but it may also mean that the case manager collates all the evidence and prepares a final report for ICAEW's Conduct Committee.
What witnesses should expect from the investigation process
When the case manager contacts you as a potential witness, they will ask you to tell them about an event or explain the nature of documents or other evidence. This will decide whether your evidence will assist in understanding the complaint. If so, you will need to provide a written and signed account.
Even though you may think that you do not know anything important or relevant, you might still be able to help with the investigation. Conducting a thorough investigation helps ICAEW to ensure the process is fair to all parties.
Many of our cases are entirely supported by documentary evidence, where live evidence and witness attendance would not be required. However, if the nature of the case requires it, you may need to attend and give your evidence orally and answer questions at a final hearing.
While the investigation is ongoing, you should not discuss the case with anyone else who may be providing evidence. It is important that the evidence given by each witness is their own, individual recollection of what happened. If you discuss the case with another witness, this might affect the way in which the evidence is presented. If you think this will be difficult for you, for example due to work arrangements, then please speak to the case manager.
Giving your statement
We will contact you to discuss how you can assist our investigation and arrange a convenient time to take your statement. Taking a statement in this way is referred to as an interview. We will give you a named point of contact (the case manager), who will conduct the interview and who you can speak to at any stage during the process.
About the interview
We usually take witness statements over the phone or by video call.
Exceptionally, we may meet with you in person at a location that is convenient for you. This might be when your statement covers things that are particularly sensitive, or if there are lots of documents to go through.
You are welcome to bring someone with you to the interview. They can sit with you and provide moral support, but they will not be able to answer questions on your behalf. The only occasion where we may not be able to accommodate such a request is if that person is also a potential witness. In those circumstances we would suggest that you nominate another person.
The case manager will ask you questions about what happened ie, what you saw or did in relation to the incident. They will usually only capture the details that are relevant to the specific concerns that are being investigated, but the questions need to be comprehensive to ensure that we have the clearest possible picture of what took place, so that our investigation is fair. Therefore, we will need you to tell us as much as you can about what happened.
You can answer our questions based on your own recollections, or by referring to documents you hold. Documents you mention may be attached to your witness statement and will then be known as exhibits. Exhibits help tell the story of what happened and contain useful information that can be read alongside your statement.
We may ask you about details such as dates and times, but if you cannot recall these, just let us know and please remember that an interview is not a memory test.
The case manager will take detailed notes of what you say and will use these to write your witness statement.
Please do not discuss the contents of your statement with anyone else before or after the interview. It is important that your account is based on your own recollections for the process to be fair to all parties involved.
Writing and reviewing your statement
If it is necessary to draft a formal witness statement, the case manager will send it to you as soon as possible after the interview. You will be asked to check it carefully to make sure it accurately reflects what you saw or did. Any exhibits you refer to in your statement will also be included so you can check these are correct too. If any areas of your statement do not reflect your account, you must change them. The case manager will help with this and may also arrange a call to clarify any outstanding points and talk about any changes you would like to make. After that, we will send you a final version of your statement to sign and date.
As soon as you are satisfied that your statement is correct, you should sign, date and return it to the case manager so that the investigation is not delayed.
Your statement will be contained in a final report which will be considered by the Conduct Committee or the Tribunals Committee. We must disclose your statement to the subject facing the allegations, along with all the other evidence we have gathered. This gives them an opportunity to comment on the contents and make representations or respond. It ensures a fair process and gives the subject of the allegation a chance to respond and give their own explanations of events.
Next steps: committee decision and any further action
The final report will be considered by the Conduct Committee, who will look at all the evidence and decide if there is a case for the subject of the allegation to answer. If it finds that there is a case to answer, the committee will decide what action needs to be taken.
Depending on the seriousness of the case, the Conduct Committee can:
You will not be required to give evidence at a Conduct Committee meeting. The Conduct Committee makes its decision using only the case documents, including the written and signed witness statement. The Conduct Committee meets in private, and no parties or witnesses are present.
We will write to you once the Conduct Committee has made a decision to let you know the outcome. This may be several months after you have provided a witness statement.
If the case needs to be considered by the Tribunals Committee, we may ask you to attend a hearing to give evidence.
How long is the investigation process for each case?
We aim to conclude most cases within 18 months, including a final hearing, if one is required. Sometimes cases may take longer due to the number of cases we are investigating or if we have problems getting the evidence we need. We will keep you up to date with any developments in the case as regularly as possible and you can speak to the case manager if you have any concerns, but we also need your help to make sure we can finish our investigation as quickly as possible.