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22. If you could suggest one improvement to the way we handle complaints what would that be?

1. Some complaints are obviously spurious and mischievous. An initial examination of complaint and summary process where there are no grounds would be welcome.

2. I was surprised at the amount of free correspondence the complainant was allowed to submit [when] no just complaint, additional documents and response to the draft report. I feel this led to the matter becoming protracted. No fault of [C]ILEX or the investigator.

3. Let your offices be open even at the weekends for your amazing services need to be daily services.

4. I am terminally ill and believe there should be a procedure to fast track where ill health as this caused massive stress.

5. More support for individuals who have had the complaint made against them. This was a very distressing time even though I received support from my employer.

IPS comments/learning points:

We have developed the Investigation, Disciplinary and Appeals Rules, and in 2015 the new Rules were implemented. These new rules provide scope for the office to undertake a preliminary review of complaints and consider their merit. Where there is no merit or evidence to support the complaint the office can reject complaints without undertaking lengthy investigations. These decisions will be reported to the Professional Conduct Panel.

As part of the investigation procedure we are bound to send responses to each party for comment so that a complete picture of the circumstances can be presented to the Professional Conduct Panel. We aim to manage responses, while ensuring fairness and transparency. However where the responses do not require any further comment we do inform the parties that no further responses are required.

We are pleased that our services are considered well thought of but it is not practical for us to operate all days of the year.

Unfortunately we were not aware of this member’s ill health until near the end of the investigation. We will respectfully ask parties to the complaints whether they require any reasonable adjustments during the investigation procedure. We have Key Performance Indicators which require 80% of complaints to be completed and sent to the Professional Conduct Panel within six months and 100% to be completed and sent to the Professional Conduct Panel within nine months. This particular complaint was concluded within six weeks and was withdrawn after we facilitated an apology from the member to the complainant.

Although we provide as much support as we can to members during the investigation procedure and ensure that we are as transparent as possible in order to maintain impartiality we are unable to provide other support. However we provide details in our letters of LawCare and details of the CILEx ethics team where members can seek further support. We also recommend members seek independent legal advice to assist them through this procedure.

23. Are there any further comments which you wish to make?

1. Investigation Officer was informative and dealt with the complaint as fast as your current procedure allows.

2. I think it was totally unnecessary and over the top especially after the explanation was given. The way my friend was treated

34 Professional standards for specialist lawyers

over giving me a reference [accusatory].

3. I dream to be part of your team that work in IPS if God so wish thank you very much I appreciate all your effort in dealing with my case.

4. In this as the complainant concerned had a particular axe to grind as most do.

5. No. 6. N/A

IPS general comments/learning points on responses to questions 20 to 23:

There was a small increase in the return of customer service questionnaires overall there were positive responses made. Where negative comments were made it was recognised, that this was because we are bound by the process. One member commented that there ought to be an interim procedure which allows us to conduct a preliminary examination to assess whether a complaint is spurious. Under the old rules we were able to reject complaints through the delegated decision process with the approval of one lay and one professional member of the Professional Conduct Panel. In 2015 the new Investigation, Disciplinary and Appeals Rules will allow us to reject complaints through the delegated decision making process without reference to the Professional Conduct Panel.

One member was critical of our communication with one of his referees. We have a duty to present accurate information to the disciplinary panels. Routine information is requested from all referees during investigations to verify the status in which they provide a reference. These include a referee’s employment status and the length of time they have known a member.

One member made a comment that free correspondence was allowed from the complainant. Our investigation is paper based and requires the complainant to provide evidence to prove the complaint. We have a duty to ensure that all relevant evidence is brought out in an investigation to ensure that Panels reach decisions based on full information. We recognise that there will be some cases where complainants will find it difficult to keep responses concise, however we make every effort to minimise cases becoming protracted without limiting a complainant’s right to respond to members comments.

The Fitness to Practise Procedures Manual that was introduced in August 2012, appears to have had the desired effect of filling in information gaps for members. The Manual has been further developed in line with the new rules being implemented in 2015. Its operation will be reviewed at the end of 2015.

Letters to members have been made clearer as has been recognised from the responses to the survey. We continue to endeavour to improve communications between members and ourselves. Where members require additional clarification during misconduct investigations we, are available to do so.

We provide information to all members who have had complaints made against them about where they can obtain support. This includes the CILEx ethics team as well as Lawcare which is a membership service and recommending that they may wish to seek independent legal advice. We also spend considerable time taking members through the investigation process. However we are required to remain impartial during the investigation process to ensure that cases are dealt with consistently and fairly and therefore are only able to provide support in regard to the investigation procedure.

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