Guidance for Members
The Disciplinary Process
One of the important factors in preserving public confidence in a profession is the establishment and maintenance of appropriate professional standards of conduct for its members and the exercise of professional discipline over those who do not comply with those standards.
The Institute has powers to issue professional rules and best practice guidelines for members and to update those rules as required. Copies of these Rules (Code of Professional Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines & Bye-Law No. 1) are available on the Institute website.
The Institute also has the power to enforce these Rules through the exercise of disciplinary procedures. To undertake this the Institute has appointed The Taxation Disciplinary Board Ltd ('the Board') to review complaints lodged against members of the Institute. The function of the Board is to undertake the fair and expeditious handling and investigation of a complaint on an impartial and independent basis. When the Board has completed their investigation it will submit a case summary with all relevant documentation and a recommendation to the Investigation Committee. The Board is empowered to deal with complaints alleging breaches of professional standards and guidance, the provision of inadequate professional service, and conduct unbefitting a professional person.
This Guide outlines the disciplinary process and gives guidance to members of the Institute in the event that they become the subject of a complaint. It is not intended to provide definitive legal advice. In the event of any conflict between this leaflet and the Rules, the latter take precedence. The Code of Professional Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines & Bye-Law No. 1 can be found elsewhere on this website.
Complainants are advised by the Board that making a complaint against a member is not a substitute for seeking damages or other redress through the courts. The Institute is not in a position to offer legal advice or intervene in fee disputes, as it considers that the courts are the proper forum for such matters. Nor can the Institute advise on what is a reasonable sum for work done. The Institute can, however, advise on whether their members have complied with professional conduct regulations relating to fees.
The Position of Members
As a member of the Institute you are bound by the Institute’s published Rules and guidelines and you are expected to be familiar with these Rules. As a member you are required to maintain standards in your work and conduct which are compatible with the high standards of the tax profession and which meet the expectations of the public, your professional colleagues and the Institute.
You may be subject to disciplinary action and the imposition of penalties and costs if you breach the relevant Rules. These could involve a reprimand, a fine and, in serious cases, suspension of, or exclusion from, membership of the Institute.
Role of the Board
The Taxation Disciplinary Board operates independently of the Institute and will employ the following process for dealing with complaints that it receives.
1. The Review stage
A complaint about the professional conduct of a member or student is made to the Secretary to the Investigation Committee. Upon receiving a complaint, he or his representative will send the complainant a standard complaint form. This completed form and any accompanying documentation will then be sent to the Taxation Disciplinary Board and will be examined by a Reviewer who will be appointed by the Board. That individual will consider whether the complaint falls within the jurisdiction of the Board, and whether the complaint has been submitted within twelve months of the events which form the subject matter of the complaint. Provided that these basic criteria are met, the Reviewer will forward the complaint to you, and give you an opportunity to make any observations you wish to make on the complaint. Your response will be forwarded to the complainant, and you will have a further opportunity to comment on any further comments made by the complainant. If the Reviewer considers that the matter is trivial or vexatious he will inform the complainant accordingly. If the complainant objects to that decision, the complainant is entitled to request that the matter be considered by an Independent Adjudicator, who is an independent person appointed by the Institute. If the Reviewer forms the opinion that the matter should be considered by the Investigation Committee he will prepare a case summary, a copy of the relevant documentation and his recommended finding which will be sent to the Investigation Committee for consideration. In the majority of cases it is likely to take some three or four months before the complaint reaches the Investigation Committee.
2. The Investigation Committee
The role of this Committee is to investigate all matters referred for examination in order to determine whether or not a prima facie case has been made out against you. (A prima facie case means that there is an arguable case to answer.) The Committee comprises between four and twelve members who are appointed by the Council of the Institute. Two of the Committee members must be qualified lawyers for at least 10 years and must be non-members of the Institute. The Committee will be chaired by one of the non-members. The Committee meets in private. Neither you nor the complainant is invited to attend and all the consideration is based on the documentary evidence submitted.
The Committee will have before it a report prepared by the Reviewer and include the correspondence which he has previously conducted in relation to the complaint. The Committee will examine the material submitted to it and, if appropriate, will request the Reviewer to undertake any further enquiries which it considers necessary to ascertain the full facts of the complaint and the evidence available to support the allegation. After full investigation and examination of the available information, the Committee may dismiss the complaint or find that there is a prima facie case to answer. If there is found to be a prima facie case to answer, the Committee will refer the complaint to the next stage which is the Disciplinary Committee except for very rare cases where the Committee may decide that the matter is not serious enough to merit any sanction available to the Disciplinary Committee. Both you and the complainant will be advised of the Committee's decision and the reasons which led to that decision. The decision of the Investigation Committee is final.
3. The Disciplinary Committee
If the Investigation Committee considers that there is a prima facie case to answer, it may refer the case to the Disciplinary Committee. The Disciplinary Committee comprises between 5 and 8 members, one of whom must be a qualified lawyer for at least 10 years and must be a non-member of the Institute. The independent member chairs the Committee. If a complaint is referred to the Disciplinary Committee three members, including the Chairman, will be appointed to a Panel to hear the formal complaint. The role of the Panel is to hear the evidence presented to it by the Investigation Committee in order to determine whether or not the alleged conduct is proven and to make a finding accordingly. Prior to the hearing you will be required to set out your response to the charges submitted by the Investigation Committee and to indicate what, if any, evidence you intend to rely upon for your defence and the names of any witnesses you propose to call. The complainant may be invited by the Investigation Committee to appear as a witness at the hearing.
If a breach of discipline has been found, the Panel may impose such penalty as they consider appropriate in the light of the powers given to them, the gravity of the breach and the facts and arguments presented. The Panel has a wide range of sanctions available to it. These include the imposition of a fine or an admonishment through to the more severe sanctions of suspension or expulsion from the Institute. If a finding is made against you, the Panel may make an award of costs against you. The Panel’s decision will be sent in writing to both you and the complainant, with reasons given for its decisions. They will also normally be published, and there are rights of appeal to the Appeal Committee (described at section 4 below).
4. The Appeal Committee
There is a final stage available to you, following a decision by the Disciplinary Committee.
You may apply for a hearing before the Appeal Committee on the terms of the order of the Disciplinary Committee. The Appeal Committee comprises of not less than four members, one of whom must be a qualified lawyer for at least 10 years and must be a non-member of the Institute. The independent member chairs the Committee. Your appeal must be submitted within 21 days of the Order of the Disciplinary Committee being served on you and should be addressed to the Secretary to the Appeal Committee. The Chairman of the Appeal Committee will appoint a panel of 3 members, including himself, to hear the appeal and you will be notified of the date, time and location of the Appeal Hearing. The decision of the Appeal Committee is final stage of the Disciplinary process.
Your Rights and Actions
You have a right to a fair and independent hearing of allegations of professional misconduct made against you. The role and structure of the Disciplinary regime are designed to provide this. Under the current regime misconduct comprises breaches of the Code of Professional Conduct and Recommended Best Practice Guideline (the Code of Conduct), the provision of inadequate professional services and conduct which is unbecoming a professional person.
In the event that a complaint is laid against you, the first formal notification to you will be the communication from the Secretary to the Investigation Committee or the Reviewer appointed to investigate the complaint against you. You should acknowledge this without delay and, if you do not already have one, download a copy of the Code of Conduct which is available at www.taxinstitute.ie. If you cannot give an immediate substantive response you should indicate when it will be given. You should respond to all communications from the Secretary or the Reviewer within the timescale requested in the correspondence. Failure to respond to an official communication may itself be considered a breach of professional discipline.
If you are employed, you must consider advising your employer of the complaint as this may have an impact on the conduct of the practice. You must also consider other factors such as the need for legal advice and any requirement to advise professional indemnity insurers together with any conditions they may have regarding the provision of legal services.
You will be advised if the matter is referred to the Disciplinary Committee and receive details of a proposed date, time and location for the hearing. Again, this should be acknowledged without delay and if there are valid reasons why you cannot attend on the proposed date seek an alternative immediately. You should also consider the extent to which you may need external advice and legal representation. At the hearing you may present your case personally or be represented. An explanation of the procedure, your rights to be heard and to call witnesses, if required, is explained in the material that will be sent to you by the Secretary to the Disciplinary Committee.
You will usually be informed of the decision of the Disciplinary Panel on the day of the hearing, but it is possible in some cases that the Panel will reserve judgement. In any event, you will receive a written communication with their findings. In the event they find the case proven they will deliver a detailed report of their findings and the reasons for their decision. You will also receive details of your right of appeal.
The Institute is concerned to ensure that there is a fair and independent investigation of every complaint referred to it and also to ensure the fair treatment of any member against whom a complaint is made. The number of disciplinary cases involving members of the Institute is relatively small and if you conduct yourself in a professional manner you should not be exposed to the disciplinary process. However, the disciplinary rules and procedures exist to protect the public and in so doing they also protect you. They enhance the standing and reputation of the tax profession and as a member of that profession this is advantageous to you and your fellow members.
This informal guide is intended to give brief information about the disciplinary process. Anyone who becomes involved in that process should also consult the Code of Conduct and Bye-law No.1 copies of which are available at www.taxinstitute.ie.
All correspondence should be addressed to:
The Secretary to the Investigation Committee,
Irish Tax Institute
Grand Canal Harbour
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