Why You Need a Professional Discipline Lawyer

By Karandeep Lidder, Student-at-Law

Whether you attend several years of schooling or spend years accumulating goodwill, or both, it takes significant time, effort and resources to build and maintain a successful professional career. Yet a complaint to a professional disciplinary body can undo all of this hard work and ruin a strong reputation practically overnight.

Investigation and Responding to a Complaint

If you are facing an investigation or disciplinary action, you should seek legal counsel the moment you are asked to cooperate with a disciplinary body's investigation. Unlike criminal matters, you are often obligated to respond in the professional disciplinary context and cannot remain silent.

You are generally entitled to receive notice informing you that a complaint has been made against you, some details of what is being alleged and how you will be required to respond. You may even be asked to provide your version of events and certain documentation. Your initial responses to the disciplinary body can dictate the course of the investigation and its eventual outcome.

Upon receipt of any such notice, you should seek legal advice on your rights and how to appropriately respond in light of the allegations. An experienced professional discipline lawyer, like those at Chand Snider LLP, can help you find the balance between your obligations and rights at the investigative stage.

Discipline Hearings

In some cases, careful navigation at the investigative stage can lead to the avoidance of sanction or may result in alternative means of addressing alleged wrongdoing which preserves your reputation and career. Where the allegations are more serious and cannot be resolved at the outset, you are likely to face disciplinary charges and an eventual hearing.

Every disciplinary tribunal has its own particular set of procedures. Some hold formal hearings similar to trials, while others only allow written submissions without the need for parties to attend before a tribunal. Having a lawyer with knowledge of these procedures is critical to ensuring that you are fully heard, the evidence is tested and your rights defended, regardless of the procedure in place.

You want to ensure your side of the story is heard, that evidence favourable to your case is considered and that your rights are not unfairly denied before a decision is made. Having a lawyer loyal to your cause can ensure these protections are in place at your hearing and respected. You cannot trust the disciplinary body before whom you appear to ensure your rights are advanced. At the end of the day the tribunal and its members are there to represent the profession's interests and the public interest, not yours.

Sanction

Although not an outcome anyone wishes, there will be times that sanction will be inevitable due to the nature of the allegations. Even in these situations, you want an experienced professional discipline lawyer on your side to advance factors favourable to your case and which serve to reduce the severity of any sanction. You have a right to a proportionate sanction even if you are guilty of the allegations against you and a lawyer with experience in professional disciplinary matters can ensure this occurs.

A proportionate sanction can allow for rehabilitation and reintegration into the profession. Although your reputation may take a hit, being able to salvage your career is always preferable to losing it outright. An experienced professional disciplinary lawyer can be the difference between a suspension and revocation of your professional license, the difference between practicing your profession again one day or never again.

Appeals and Judicial Reviews

Sometimes disciplinary bodies get it wrong. Although these bodies often receive legal advice and have lawyers sitting as members of tribunals, ultimately many disciplinary decisions are made by non-lawyers. This can result in a denial of natural justice and procedural fairness. These are basic legal requirements that must be in place for any disciplinary hearing, including the right to know the case against you and to respond, notice requirements, disclosure rights, the right to have all relevant evidence considered and the right to an impartial and unbiased decision maker, among others.

However, these basic standards are not always implemented when a disciplinary decision is made. In these circumstances, an appeal will be appropriate. Depending on the statutory scheme in place, this will require either an appeal to an internal appellate body or judicial review before the Divisional Court or Federal Court.

Many disciplinary bodies have internal appellate procedures for appeals of disciplinary decisions. If this is the case, this option for appeal must be exercised before any relief can be sought from the court. The relief an internal appellate body can provide will depend on the powers conferred upon it by its enabling statute.

In some situations, such as where there is no internal appeal mechanism or the internal appellate body repeats the mistakes of the initial tribunal or makes mistakes of its own when hearing the appeal, relief from the court will need to be sought by way of a judicial review. As most professions are regulated by the provincial government, judicial reviews for professional disciplinary decisions are often made to the Divisional Court. For certain federally regulated professions, judicial review must be sought in the Federal Court.

In a judicial review, the courts review the reasonableness of the disciplinary body's decision. The court determines, having regard to information before the decision-making body, and the purposes and expertise of the particular body, among other factors, if the decision was reasonable in the circumstances.

Disciplinary bodies are given wide latitude to make decisions and a court will not lightly interfere with a tribunal's ultimate decision. However, if the law is improperly applied, a relevant factor is not properly considered, bias can be established or there is some other defect in the decision or decision-making process, the courts can intervene and either set aside the decision and send it back for reconsideration or vary the decision on its own.

Conclusion

Professional disciplinary proceedings can have life altering consequences for an individual. Although prison may not be a consequence, as in criminal proceedings, the loss of one's professional career can certainly be a heavy and devastating loss. If facing disciplinary action, do not risk going at it alone. Hire an experienced professional disciplinary lawyer, such as those at Chand Snider LLP, to assist you in preserving your career and reputation.

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