Professional regulatory bodies operate across a wide range of occupations. People working in law, finance, accountancy, medicine, education and many other professions are all subject to sometimes complex and stringent rules of professional discipline. Being accused of breaching these rules can seriously damage an individual’s ability to earn a living, and can ruin their reputation.
In recent years there has been significant growth in the activity of these professional regulatory bodies. The number of cases has escalated as regulators have become increasingly willing to investigate and bring cases before tribunals.
One reason for this trend is increasingly blurred line between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ conduct. Activities that may once have been considered private are no longer so. Professional disciplinary investigators are increasingly examining professionals’ use of social media as well as activities outside the traditional workplace.
Professional disciplinary investigations usually start with a complaint from a client or patient, competitor, employer or a third party. However, sometimes a regulator will decide to investigate based on stories in the media, its own enquiries or as a result of reports from law enforcement or another regulatory body.
Professional disciplinary procedure varies between various regulatory bodies but there are some common themes.
Any investigation usually starts with a fact-finding exercise which takes the form of gathering information and documents. Some regulators such as the FCA have compulsory powers to obtain data. While other organisations may not be able to formally require material in this way, lack of engagement from the investigation’s subject will often be regarded as a failure to cooperate. This is often a serious matter in itself.
However, a disciplinary body’s requests for information can often be onerous. They can be challenged if they are unreasonable or disproportionate.
Many regulators have the power to interview anyone under investigation. This is usually a crucial part of an investigation and, as such, the way it is dealt with is likely to influence the outcome.
Anyone facing the prospect of interview is advised to carry out detailed preparation in advance. This may include requesting advance notice of themes and topics to be covered and documents to be referred to. It also involves taking the time to thoroughly consider what is provided and how to respond.
There may be an opportunity in the period after investigation (but before any decision to proceed or not has been made) for an investigation’s subject to present an argument on whether proceedings should be brought. A well drafted written representation tackling the key issues and submitted at this point can end cases without any action being taken or result in agreed settlements or mitigate penalties.
Hickman & Rose specialise in professional disciplinary matters. We are proud to offer a service that is bespoke to our clients’ requirements: personal, partner-led and client-focussed. We do not offer the sort of ‘one size fits all’ service that comes with servicing bulk contracts with professional support organisations.
We work across a range of professional discipline bodies including the SRA, FCA, FRC and GMC. Having expertise across regulators and industries gives us an overview of regulatory philosophy. We can anticipate lines of attack – and develop innovative defences – that firms which focus on just one profession may be unaware.
A significant part of the team’s work involves providing professional disciplinary advice and representation to individuals whom the firm also represents in relation to criminal allegations. By offering both services together, the firm is able to provide clients with complete legal solution to the issues which are most likely to seriously impact on their liberty and livelihood.
As a result, we have achieved great success for clients in a number of fields including:
The department is led by partner Andrew Katzen, who has spent many years’ acting for clients in all aspects of professional discipline. He is a committee member of the Association of Regulatory and Disciplinary Lawyers (ARDL). Regulatory law and professional discipline specialist Claire Wallace is a partner in the department.