The role of the conveyancer is often underestimated. While under pressure from all sides to bring transactions to a successful conclusion, conveyancers must ensure that key issues are not mishandled or ignored, as doing so may later cause unforeseen consequences. Not thoroughly reading through forms completed by the client, failing to spot an important restrictive covenant, or not realising that a neighbour has the right of way across a property being purchased are just some examples of where errors may occur.
The CLC Code of Conduct
The CLC’s Code of Conduct (“the Code”) outlines the principles which all members must adhere to; the principles being to:
- Act with independence and integrity;
- Maintain high standards of work;
- Act in the best interests of Clients;
- Comply with your duty to the court;
- Deal with regulators and ombudsmen in an open and co-operative way;
- Promote equality of access and service.
Failure to conform to the Code can result in disciplinary action, in accordance with CLC’s Regulatory and Enforcement Policy . The policy defines CLC’s regulatory objectives as to:
- protect and promote the public interest;
- support the constitutional principle of the rule of law;
- improve access to justice;
- protect and promote the interests of consumers;
- promote competition in the provision of legal services;
- encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession;
- increase public understanding of the citizen’s legal rights and duties;
- promote and maintain adherence to the professional principles
Oversight by the CLC is achieved through a number of regulatory touch-points, including when assessing license applications, inspecting new conveyancing practices, undertaking ongoing member risk assessment and the maintenance of a risk register, handling complaints, monitoring regulatory performance, investigating identified risks, and providing best practice guidance, support, advice, and resources. As such, there are several routes which may lead the CLC to review the actions or omissions of members suspected of not adhering to the code.
What may be considered a breach of the CLC code?
Regulatory breaches which may lead to disciplinary action being taken may include, amongst others, fraud & dishonesty, if a person is considered no longer ‘fit and proper’, improper influence, failure to pay the CLC annual fee, and providing false, incomplete or misleading information to CLC.
When assessing the severity of any potential breach, CLC should take into account, the following factors, amongst others, the seriousness of the act or omission, the impact on the client (or potential impact), any damage to the reputation of and public confidence in the conveyancing profession.
How does the CLC handle enforcement proceedings?
The CLC enforcement process progresses from informal to formal, depending on the scope and severity of the breach, as follows:
Step 1: Informal investigation and advice
Sections 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3 of the enforcement policy makes it clear that any enforcement action taken by CLC against a licensed conveyancer will be proportionate to the breach. Furthermore, an informal resolution is desirable; however all evidence presented will be assessed using the civil standard of proof (i.e. on a balance of probability), as is becoming increasingly common with regulators in a range of sectors (including in medicine). If no issue is found, no action will be taken. Minor issues will likely be handled by way of informal action, advice, support, and guidance.
Step 2: Requesting further evidence
If the CLC consider further investigation is warranted, they may request further evidence either in writing or in person. Based on the outcome of the evidence then presented, the CLC may agree to an ‘undertaking’, requiring that specific actions be taken or ceased. Failure to comply with this undertaking may then lead to disciplinary proceedings.
Step 3: CLC Disciplinary Action – Committee Hearing
If the above steps fail to resolve the matter informally, formal disciplinary proceedings may then start. The respondent will be able to present verbal and written evidence in response.
Step 4: Based on the outcome of the hearing, the CLC may refer the matter to the CLC Adjudication Panel:
In the case of an individual Licensed Conveyancer, after it has carried out a preliminary investigation and determined that the allegation should be referred for hearing and determination, the Adjudication Panel may make one or more of the following orders:
- Revoke the licence
- Disqualify a licensed conveyancer from holding a licence (either permanently or for a specified period);
- Suspend a licence;
- Direct the issue of a licence subject to conditions it may specify;
- Direct the payment of a fine which is fair and proportionate, and does not exceed £50 million;
- Reprimand the licensed conveyancer;
It should be understood that license suspension is not equivalent to revocation – revocation may be avoided if the CLC are assured that a serious risk is no longer present. A more comprehensive list of potential enforcement tools can be found on page 10 -12 of the Regulation and Enforcement Policy. A decision made by the CLC, may, on request by the respondent, be appealed and reviewed by the Adjudication Panel. Appeals can also be sought and heard before the High Court, the First Tier Tribunal, or the Upper Chamber, within 28 days of the decision.
What should I do if I am under investigation by CLC for breach of the Code?
From the outset, it is essential you comply with all requests made by CLC within the time frame provided. As soon as possible, seek legal representation from a CLC disciplinary defence solicitor, who can rapidly assess your case and recommend the best course of action.
Because solicitors in this field are well acquainted with the CLC Code, the regulation and enforcement policy and processes, and the history of cases such as yours, they will be able to explain how CLC will interpret your position, what they will be looking for in order to justify an informal response to your matter, and how this can now be achieved. They will understand that your reputation and career may be at risk if a complaint against you is not de-escalated and brought to a quick and amenable conclusion.
Remember, the CLC are genuinely acting in the best interests of conveyancing clients and the sector more broadly. As soon as they are assured that any issue has been handled and prevented from future occurrence, proceedings against you may be brought to a conclusion, providing you with the renewed peace of mind your career is safe and back on track.
We have been helping solicitors and other legal professionals with disciplinary and regulatory hearings for over 20 years. If you have any questions, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete our Free Online Enquiry and I will soon be in touch.