Insights

The Purpose of Professional Disciplinary Sanctions

Range of Sanctions 

The range of sanctions available to disciplinary tribunals varies widely according to the nature of the profession.  However, most disciplinary tribunals have the power to do any of the following:-

  • Exclude from membership;
  • Suspend from membership;
  • Severely reprimand/reprimand/admonish a member;
  • Fine and order the payment of costs;
  • Publication of the order made. 

For members of a professional body, the most serious sanction that can be imposed upon them is exclusion from membership and publication of that exclusion.  Such an order can have devastating consequences upon a member both personally and professionally and can sometimes be seen as punitive.   

Purpose of Sanction 

However, the purpose of the sanctions by professional regulatory bodies differs from sanctions imposed by the court.  Sanctions are generally imposed by the courts for retributive punishment.  The purpose of sanctions by a regulatory body is not punitive in nature, but is to:-

  • Protect the members of the public; and
  • Maintain public confidence in the profession; and
  • Declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and performance. 

In disciplining members, regulatory bodies generally consider "the reputation of a profession as a whole is more important than the fortunes of an individual member of that profession."  

Considerations in Determining Sanction

Disciplinary tribunals are required to consider all available sanctions starting with the lowest.  

The sanction imposed must be sufficient and no more than is necessary to achieve the purpose of the sanction.  In considering the sanction to impose, the disciplinary tribunal must try to reach a proportionate balance between:-

  • The public interest;
  • The interests of the professional body as a whole;
  • The interests of the particular member in a case;
  • The seriousness of the case;
  • Any mitigating or aggravating factors in the case. 

Mitigation is generally considered under the following general headings:-

  • Evidence of member’s adherence to good practice i.e. previous unblemished record;
  • Evidence of insight into wrongdoing i.e. full cooperation with regulatory body, evidence of remorse and efforts to take remedial action;
  • Personal mitigation such as periods of stress, illness and level of support in the workplace.

Aggravating factors generally include:-

  • A previous disciplinary record;
  • Repeated misconduct over time;
  • Intentional or deliberate disregard of professional obligations;
  • Lack of insight;
  • Harm or adverse impact on the public.

Exclusion from membership

The potential for exclusion from membership is a most serious sanction.  Such a sanction is likely to be appropriate when the behaviour is fundamentally incompatible with being a member of that profession.  

Accountants, Solicitors, Doctors and nurses, for example, are expected to discharge their professional duties with nothing less than complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness.  Failure to do so is likely to result in the imposition of severe sanctions for misconduct. 

Exclusion may be appropriate, for example, when the conduct involves dishonesty, attempted cover up of misconduct, breach of a regulatory order or persistent denial of misconduct.  Dishonesty undermines trust and confidence in the profession.  The consistently supported approach is to exclude members from their professions where there has been a lack of probity or honesty.  

If a member is facing allegations of misconduct, which may include dishonesty, the member is well advised to take legal advice prior to responding to their professional body and attending a disciplinary hearing.  The potential implications for the member are extremely serious and should be treated as such.  Failure to deal with the allegations properly could result in serious sanctions being imposed on the member which can have far reaching effects. 

Reddy Charlton have a very active practice in professional disciplinary matters in relation to a range of activities including accountants, investment advisers, sports people, health professionals and teachers. If you require any further advice, please contact either Paul Keane at pkeane@reddycharlton.ie or Laura Graham lgraham@reddycharlton.ie 


Keywords: Publication, Laura Graham, Disciplinary

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