All conveyancing and probate professionals who are regulated by the Council for Licenced Conveyancers (CLC) can be investigated by the body if allegations of misconduct are made. All regulated conveyancers are expected to comply with the CLC’s Regulatory Arrangements which set out not only a Code of Conduct, but an Anti-Money-Laundering & Combating Terrorist Financing Code, Accounts Code, Complaints Code, Conflict of Interest Code, and Equality Code, to name but a few.
The CLC divides complaints into three categories:
• service complaints
• negligence complaints
• conduct complaints
Service complaints and negligence complaints are not investigated by the CLC. However, in the case of a negligence complaint, once the matter has been settled by the insurers and at the request of the complainant, the CLC will look into whether there is a conduct matter to be investigated.
The CLC will investigate conduct complaints, defined as where the practitioner has breached the Regulator’s Code of Conduct or other Regulatory Arrangements.
According to the CLC:
“A Conduct Complaint will generally include breach of one or more of the following overriding principles (set out in the CLC’s Code of Conduct):
• Act with independence and integrity;
• Maintain high standards of work;
• Act in the best interests of your Clients;
• Deal with regulators and ombudsmen in an open and co-operative way;
• Promote equality of access and service
A Conduct Complaint will often include mismanagement of client money.”
Wherever possible, the CLC will aim to resolve complaints informally, which is both quicker and more cost-effective. However, in some cases, the CLC will consider formal investigation and regulatory enforcement unavoidable. If this occurs, it is essential that you obtain legal advice and representation from a solicitor experienced in regulatory investigations and prosecutions.
What are the CLC’s enforcement powers?
The CLC makes clear that:
“All enforcement processes will be exercised in a way which is transparent, accountable, consistent, proportionate and targeted in keeping with the Regulator’s Compliance Code and the Legal Services Act 2007”
“Regulation and enforcement will be proportionate and flexible enough to encourage economic progress within the regulated community. We will not seek to cause unnecessary expense to an individual; any penalty imposed will be fair.”
Gathered evidence will be assessed by applying the civil standard of proof (balance of probabilities) and the Respondent will be allowed to make representations.
Enforcement action will only be taken in matters where the breach is serious. The seriousness of an act or omission which resulted in the conduct-related complaint will be judged on the impact, actual or potential, of the risk to delivery to the Code of Conduct’s Outcomes.
The CLC may impose one or more of the following sanctions, amongst others:
- Referral to the appropriate regulator – this will occur if the manager or employee involved in the conduct-related complaint is suspected to be in breach of their regulatory responsibilities.
- Reprimand – if behaviour change is needed a reprimand may be given.
- Licence conditions – ordering specific actions to be taken if an act, omission, or arrangement needs to be corrected.
- Financial penalties – a fine of greater than £50,000 will only be issued in serious cases. A fine is aimed at deterring non-compliance not only by the Respondent but others as well. The level of the penalty delivered will take account of the size/resources of the Respondent to ensure it is proportionate whilst also at a level likely to give clients and the public confidence that conduct issues are appropriately dealt with. All fines are paid to Her Majesty’s Treasury, not the CLC itself.
- Disqualification – this only happens in exceptional circumstances, and where the seriousness of the act or omission means no other action is deemed sufficient.
- Licence suspension or revocation – this is a serious consequence and “will not be taken lightly”. A suspension is likely to lead to the enforced closure of the Respondent’s business unless the reason for the suspension is fixed immediately.
- Intervention – this is used as a last resort in situations where no other enforcement action is adequate to deal with the act or omission or if the Respondent’s viability is threatened or it becomes insolvent.
If you are facing an investigation by the CLC or they are threatening enforcement action, it is imperative to obtain expert legal advice and representation. This will ensure you receive a robust defence, and your best interests are protected.
We have been helping solicitors and other legal professionals with disciplinary and regulatory advice for 25 years. If you have any questions relating to an investigation or a Tribunal appearance, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete our Free Online Enquiry.