A recent decision by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) Disciplinary Committee highlights the strength of mitigation evidence when the Panel are imposing a sanction.

Background

The case concerned a professional member of CIPFA who admitted failing to respect the privacy and confidentiality of his former wife’s email account. On three occasions in April 2012, he accessed her private and personal email account and forwarded emails regarding their on-going matrimonial proceedings to his own email account or to a friend’s account, without his former wife’s knowledge or consent.

The Committee found his “reprehensible” actions were inappropriate and a “clear breach of professional standards”. The Committee were concerned that the individual “had conducted himself in such a way so as prejudicially to affect the status, reputation or welfare ofCIPFA. In spite of this, the CIPFA Committee accepted that the actions were not dishonest and only imposed a Reprimand.

Mitigation

The Committee accepted the Registrant’s explanation that he had “no ulterior intent” when accessing the emails, and this was due in part to the strength of his mitigation evidence. The Registrant successfully demonstrated to the CIPFA Committee that:

  • This incident had occurred during a short and unstable period of, what is otherwise, an “exemplary career”. No further complaints about the Registrant had been made. In combination, these helped to demonstrate to the Panel that his actions were a ‘one off’ and a mistake.
  • He was of previous good character, which was represented in strong testimonials. Providing the Panel with a wealth of individuals who are willing to vouch for the individual often reassures them that the Registrant was behaving in a way which was out of character.
  • He was willing to cooperate with the Regulator. In admitting the offences and by providing mitigation to explain that his behaviour was out of character, he demonstrated insight to the Panel.

Analysis

CIPFA members (and other professionals) must always be mindful of the standards required of their behaviour in their private lives. Failure to comply with CIPFA’s Code of Ethics can have costly implications for professionals.

However, this case provides a welcome reminder that CIPFA and other Panels are mindful to the realities of people’s lives and to the difficulties which may arise during unstable times.

By admitting the allegations, showing the Panel that this behaviour was out of character, and demonstrating insight into the misconduct, the Registrant was able to reassure CIPFA that he was not a risk to the profession and that a more lenient sanction should be imposed.