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On 14 and 15 November 2016 a Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) heard allegations against Mr Stephen Sutcliffe.
Mr Sutcliffe attended the Disciplinary Committee hearing with legal representation.
Mr Sutcliffe admitted failing to respect the privacy and confidentiality of his former wife’s email account in that, on three occasions in April 2012, he accessed the private and personal email account of his former wife and forwarded three emails from her account either to his own account or to that of a friend, Miss A.
The first email forwarded by Mr Sutcliffe to his own account had been sent by his former wife to the solicitor representing her in the ongoing matrimonial proceedings between herself and Mr Sutcliffe. The second email, which Mr Sutcliffe forwarded to his friend, was received by his former wife from one of her relatives. The third email, which Mr Sutcliffe also forwarded to his friend, had been sent by his former wife to a relative and her partner and included an email to his former wife from her solicitor. The three forwarded emails related to the ongoing matrimonial proceedings.
As admitted by Mr Sutcliffe, his actions were found to be both inappropriate and a failure to act in accordance with the Standards of Professional Practice on Ethics in that they brought the profession into disrepute. His actions were found not to be dishonest. The Committee accepted Mr Sutcliffe’s evidence that he had no ulterior intent when he accessed his former wife’s emails. He was of previous good character and had strong testimonials as to that character.
The Committee found that, by acting in breach of CIPFA’s Code of Ethics, Mr Sutcliffe had breached Bye-Law 23(b). Mr Sutcliffe was also found to have breached Bye-Law 23(c), in that he had conducted himself in such a way so as prejudicially to affect the status, reputation or welfare of the Institute, and Bye-Law 23(d), in that he had acted in a manner which had brought, or was likely to bring, discredit upon himself, the Council, the Institute or the profession of accountancy.
The Disciplinary Committee determined to impose a Reprimand.
The Committee considered that when Mr Sutcliffe accessed and forwarded his former wife’s emails, which all concerned the matrimonial litigation in which they were involved, he as a senior professional knew, or ought to have known, that such communications were confidential. His actions in accessing those emails without the knowledge and expressed consent of his former wife were not only a clear breach of professional standards but also reprehensible.
However, the misconduct took place during a short period in an otherwise exemplary career and during a time of turbulence in Mr Sutcliffe’s personal life. He had not sought to deny his inappropriate behaviour and seemed not to have benefited directly because of it. The Committee was mindful of the length of time that had elapsed since the events in question and that there had been no suggestion of any ethical misbehaviour during that time.
The Committee imposed a costs order against Mr Sutcliffe.
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