The Disciplinary Bye-laws (DBLs) govern the way in which complaints are investigated by ICAEW’s Professional Conduct Department (PCD) and the procedures governing the Investigation, Disciplinary, Appeal and Fitness Committees.
Significant changes have been made to the DBLs with effect from 14 October 2019. The ICAEW Regulatory Board (IRB) has made these changes with the primary purpose of safeguarding the public interest and the clients of firms.
The changes include the introduction of:
- A Code of Conduct for Complainants
- A fast-track disciplinary process for serious criminal conviction complaints
- Settlement powers
- Powers to enable disciplinary tribunals (in certain circumstances) to suspend a respondent’s membership, registration or practising certificate ahead of the main complaint hearing
- Powers for the Investigation Committee to recall and reconsider complaints (in certain circumstances) that it has previously referred to the Disciplinary Committee.
There are also changes to DBLs 4, 5 and 7 concerning respondents’ liability to disciplinary action and evidence in disciplinary proceedings.
These changes also offer the benefit of reduced costs and quicker conclusions to cases, but most importantly, they continue to ensure a robust investigation process.
The changes to the Disciplinary Bye-laws do not yet apply to complaints about accredited probate firms arising under the Probate Regulations. Until the amendments are approved by the Legal Services Board, the Disciplinary Bye-laws dated 15 October 2018 continue to apply.
The changes to the DBLs in detail:
- Liability to disciplinary action. Various changes to DBLs 4, 5 and 7 concerning respondents’ liability to disciplinary action under the DBLs and the evidence ICAEW can rely on in bringing disciplinary proceedings
- Introduction of a Complainants’ Code of Conduct (DBLs 9&10). This Code explains complainants’ rights and obligations when they make a complaint to ICAEW about an ICAEW member, student, regulated individual or firm. It explains how PCD will investigate complaints and the action it may take if complainants bring vexatious or repetitive complaints, or if they are abusive or make unreasonable demands of ICAEW staff
- Introduction of a fast-track process for criminal convictions (DBL 14B). The IRB has introduced this change to allow certain types of criminal conviction complaints to be immediately heard by a Disciplinary Tribunal following investigation. This removes the need for prior review of these complaints by the Investigation Committee. This fast-track process will reduce delay and enable cases to be dealt with at an earlier stage. For now, the IRB has stated this process will apply to serious criminal conviction complaints falling within the first category of complaints under section 4 of the Guidance on Sanctions. These complaints attract a starting point of exclusion.
- Recall and reconsideration of complaints. In certain circumstances, the Investigation Committee is now able to recall and reconsider complaints which have been previously referred formally to the Disciplinary Committee for hearing. This power will be used in limited cases where e.g. new information or evidence has come to light following the referral, which may have altered the Committee’s decision to refer or which indicates that additional or alternative complaints should have been brought
- Settlement orders, DBL 18B. This enables the head of staff (in the disciplinary context the ICAEW Professional Standards’ Executive Director) to enter into settlement discussions with respondents/respondent firms in relation to complaints. Any settlement agreement and draft settlement order will be subject to approval by a Settlement Agreement Chair (an independent disciplinary tribunals chair) to ensure the agreed settlement is in the public interest and that the level of sanction is appropriate Agreed orders will be published
- DBLs 30 & 30A – interim orders. DBL 30 has been amended and DBL 30A introduced to enable a tribunal of the Disciplinary Committee to make various interim orders pending a substantive hearing where respondents have been a) charged with an indictable offence b) abandoned their practice or c) excluded from another professional body. A tribunal may make an interim order to, e.g. suspend a respondent’s membership or practising certificate where it considers an order to be necessary for the protection of the public or otherwise in the public interest. Any order will be subject to a right of review under DBL 30A and appeal under DBL 31.
As a result of these changes, new regulations will be introduced shortly for settlement orders and interim orders. Minor amendments will also be made to the Appeal Committee Regulations.