Processes: never an open and shut case

Ensuring that the public can have confidence in the disciplinary process of a
professional body is achieved in two principal ways.

First, ensuring substantial involvement of the public in the discipline
process. In ICAS, lay members have a prominent role in all three stages –
investigation, discipline and appeal. They are members of all decision making
forums including panels, committees and the tribunal itself. Their role is to
ensure the body is doing its job rigorously and to provide the guarantee of
fairness to the complainer and member.

Second, public confidence is achieved through the involvement of regulatory
oversight. In the case of the accounting profession, the Professional Oversight
Board (POB) has substantial powers, which it deploys routinely, to hold to
account the disciplinary processes of all the UK institutes. POB has expressed
high levels of satisfaction with the disciplinary regime that ICAS has in place.

Where ICAS stands apart from other UK institutes is on opening disciplinary
tribunals to the public. We are not currently persuaded that open hearings will
advance, far less satisfy, the public interest. Indeed, it may be damaging to
the interests of the complainer. To explain why we will not introduce open
hearings in the current regulatory climate, it is helpful to use the example of
a court case.

In the eyes of the law, when the victim of a crime appears in court along
with the accused, each can expect equal treatment in terms of the evidence upon
which they can call. Of fundamental importance are the powers to compel
witnesses to give evidence and to subject that evidence to cross-examination.

These fundamental powers do not exist in professional disciplinary tribunals.
How then would a member of the public who complains about a member hope to get
satisfaction when the best evidence might be denied to the hearing? How can the
member be treated fairly if they suffer from the same denial? Written witness
statements are of limited use as they tell only part of the story in any
contested issue and are no substitute for the oral evidence of a witness,
because there is no means of cross-examining the content. Any disciplinary
process that relied on written statements would be flawed.

ICAS would be open to considering public hearings if the power of tribunals
to compel the attendance of witnesses existed. As it stands, we believe that our
decision is based on a sound principle of fairness, designed to secure the best
result in the public interest. But we will watch others’ experience and
constantly challenge whether our procedures are best.

Anton Colella, chief executive, ICAS

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