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On 17 December 2020 a Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (“CIPFA”) heard allegations against CIPFA Registered Student Mr Neil Hooper.
Mr Hooper attended the hearing without a representative.
Mr Hooper became a CIPFA Registered Student in August 2016. In 2019 he was a Graduate Trainee employed by a London Borough, Borough A.
In 2019 Mr Hooper undertook CIPFA’s Strategic Public Finance (SPF) course and, in June 2019, undertook the SPF examination. The examination was computer based and Mr Hooper chose to undertake it in his own room with remote invigilation. His examination was monitored electronically, including through video surveillance.
When Mr Hooper’s script was marked, the examiner had concerns about the similarity between his answers and passages from the course materials. This was such that she did not believe that it could be down to memory. The remote invigilator was consulted and, although stating that there seemed to be no academic breach, noted that Mr Hooper was often looking in one particular direction, away from the screen, during the examination. The issue was considered by CIPFA’s Examination Panel which referred the matter to the Institute’s Disciplinary Scheme (the Scheme).
Mr Hooper initially denied any wrongdoing when the matter was put to him by the Scheme. He put the similarities between his script and the workbooks down to memory. He said that he had demonstrated to the invigilator that he had no unauthorised materials and it would have been noticed if he had used a textbook.
Before the Disciplinary Committee, Mr Hooper admitted to possessing and using unauthorised materials during the course of the SPF examination resulting in parts of his script being identical, or very similar to, the CIPFA workbooks. He accepted that his actions were dishonest, a breach of the Institute’s Assessment Regulations, and that he had gained an unfair advantage over his peers.
Having considered the material before it, including Mr Hooper’s examination script and the invigilator’s recordings of the examination, the Committee had no hesitation in accepting Mr Hooper’s admissions.
Mr Hooper admitted breaching Bye-Law 23. He accepted that his actions brought, or were likely to bring, discredit on himself, his employer, the Institute and the profession of accountancy (Bye-Law 23(d)). He also accepted that his conduct was a breach of the Institute’s Code of Ethics’ fundamental principles of integrity and professional behaviour and affected prejudicially the status, reputation or welfare of CIPFA (Bye-Law 23(b) and (c)).
The Committee found breaches of Bye-Laws 23(b) and (c) to be made out and found misconduct proven (Bye-Law 23(d)).
Mr Hooper had deliberately arranged to have unauthorised materials with him at his examination desk, which he concealed from the invigilator, and used them to cheat in the examination. His actions breached the examination regulations and the Institute’s Code of Ethics. Cheating in a CIPFA examination undermines the system of fair and robust examination operated by the Institute in which students are required to prove their suitability to become Members. It is liable to have a significant adverse effect on the Institute. It is one of the most serious departures from proper standards that a student can commit and was deplorable behaviour that brought discredit on Mr Hooper.
The Disciplinary Committee directed that Mr Hooper be expelled from the Institute.
Mr Hooper advised the Committee that he took full responsibility for his actions and accepted that it was his choice to cheat. He regretted trying to gain an unfair advantage over other students and trying to progress his career at the expense of others who were honest. He recognised that his acknowledgment of his guilt had developed relatively recently and had come to realise that denying his actions, was itself, a dishonest act. He stated that his conduct would never happen again.
In reaching its decision, the Committee took account of mitigating factors; Mr Hooper was of previous good character, he had engaged in the regulatory process, and, had made full admissions. At the hearing he had expressed genuine remorse and showed encouraging signs of insight.
The Committee also took into account relevant aggravating factors. Mr Hooper had been dishonest, his cheating had been planned, and he had tried to cover it up afterwards. His actions represented a betrayal of his employer’s trust. His employer had invested resources in helping him to achieve CIPFA Membership and he may have deprived another of the opportunity he had.
Whilst the Committee acknowledged that Mr Hooper was endeavouring to move on and had begun to understand the seriousness of his past actions, he had deliberately set out to subvert the examination and conceal what he had done. His actions undermined confidence in the Institute and its examination process and were fundamentally incompatible with student membership of the Institute. He could not be trusted with professional status at this time.
The Committee directed that Mr Hooper be expelled from student membership of the Institute.
The Committee also imposed a costs order against Mr Hooper.
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