A Guide to Disciplinary and Regulatory Proceedings
This guide is intended to assist professional persons by providing an overview of how disciplinary proceedings usually work. It is designed to provide simple outline but all professional regulators operate under their own regulatory code and their powers are derived from statute unique to the particular profession. For example, the Solicitors Regulation Authority derives its powers from the Solicitors Act 1974 (and the Legal Services Act 2007), the General Medical Council from the Medical Act 1983 and the General Dental Council from the Dentists Act 1984. However, generally speaking, each of the regulators operate in a similar fashion when investigating disciplinary issues and are obviously bound to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.
- If you are under investigation by your regulator then it is likely to write to you in the first instance simply to inform you that they are investigating. Sometimes, it is not as simple as this and the Regulator can exercise interim powers if it considers that it is necessary to protect the public. Thus, it could intervene in a practice or impose conditions on practice. In more extreme cases, it could suspend your ability to practice but this is rare.
- Following the initial stages (which regrettably may take some time), it may conclude that there is no case to answer but more often than not, it will write to you, set out the allegations made and ask you to provide a response. You will usually be given 21 or 28 days to respond but you can ask for more time if you need it (although you must ask before the deadline given to you).
- You should consult a solicitor at this stage. If you are a member of a union, or you have a qualifying insurance policy, you may be able to get legal advice free of charge. If not, you can telephone this firm and speak to one of our qualified lawyers who will be able to discuss next steps and the likely costs.
- You should provide a detailed written response to the allegations either via your solicitor or after receiving his or her advice.
- Once the regulator receives your response, it will usually pass the allegations, the supporting evidence and your response submissions to an investigating committee to decide whether there is a case to answer. In effect, the committee decides whether there is any real likelihood of the allegations being proven. If it concludes there is not then the investigation is likely to be concluded with no further action. Alternatively, it may (depending on the regulator) take its own action to impose a summary punishment (possibly a small fine or a rebuke) or it may, if it considers there to be a case to answer which cannot be resolved summarily, refer the matter to a disciplinary tribunal for hearing.
- If the matter is referred to a hearing, directions will be given to the Parties to prepare the matter for the final hearing. The Regulator will usually prosecute the case (as the Applicant). You are likely to be required to file and serve a witness statement setting out your position with respect to the allegations and you may also rely on the testimony of other witnesses of fact or persons to give evidence about your character. There are likely to be other important issues to decide leading up to the final hearing such as disclosure (material which may assist your case) and whether, perhaps, the proceedings should be held in private. Again, you should ensure that you take legal advice about the preparation for the final hearing if you have not done so already.
- The final hearing will be heard before a tribunal which is likely to consist of independent professionals and lay persons all of whom will be experienced in acting in a judicial capacity. In order for the case to be proven, the Tribunal would need to be satisfied that the allegations were made out on a ‘balance of probabilities’. This is known as the civil standard of proof.
- If the allegations are not proven, that will be the end of the matter and, depending on the Tribunal, you may be able to recover some or all of your legal costs.
- If the allegations are proven, then the Tribunal will decide how you should be punished. The punishment will depend on the nature and seriousness of the allegations and could range from ‘striking off’ the professional register down to the imposition of a financial penalty.
This is just a guide and if you would like specific advice about your case then please call our team of Regulatory and Disciplinary solicitors for a confidential discussion on 020 7183 8950.