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On 2 and 3 November 2021 a Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy ("CIPFA") heard allegations against CIPFA Registered Student Mr Gerard Watters.
Mr Watters did not attend the hearing and was not represented in his absence.
Mr Watters became a CIPFA Registered Student in 2019.
In December 2020 Mr Watters undertook CIPFA's Strategic Public Finance (SPF) examination. He had elected to be invigilated by remote invigilation at a place of his choosing. This meant that he was monitored remotely by various electronic means during the examination including using the camera in his laptop.
The examination was conducted in accordance with CIPFA's assessment regulations, which prohibit access to unauthorised materials and mobile telephones during a CIPFA examination.
When Mr Watters' examination script was marked, the examiner had concerns about the similarity, and in some places exact match, between passages in all six of his answers and the CIPFA SPF course workbooks provided to him. The senior examiner shared these concerns.
The committee examined the workbooks and the invigilator's videos of the examination. It noted striking similarities between passages from the workbooks and Mr Watters' answers. The committee found Mr Watters' explanation for this, that he had memorised passages from the workbooks, to be incredible in light of the volume of material in the workbooks and there being no claim from Mr Watters that he had exceptional powers of memory.
The committee noted in the videos that Mr Watters was frequently looking away from the computer screen. For prolonged periods, when he was not typing, Mr Watters stared intently downwards and appeared, from his eye movement, to be reading. These periods of concentrated study were followed by short bursts of typing. The committee rejected Mr Watters' explanation that he was looking away because of reflection of light in a mirror. It found it to be a video of someone reading something apparently on the desk in front of him.
The committee considered Mr Watters' statement that he struggled to see how he could have accessed course materials during the examination. He had shown the invigilator his permitted materials, told her that he did not have a mobile telephone with him, and had undertaken a full pan of his room using the computer camera before the examination started. The committee noted video clips and screenshots taken from the invigilator's video which, during the room scan, included a reflection in a mirror showing Mr Watters holding a mobile telephone (or similar device) against the screen of his computer where it could not be seen by the laptop camera. The committee was satisfied that Mr Watters had an electronic device with him from the start of the examination which explained how he had accessed the workbooks. This meant that he had lied to the invigilator.
The committee was satisfied that Mr Watters had cheated in his examination by accessing course workbooks during his examination and copying from them.
The committee found that Mr Watters' actions brought, or were likely to bring, discredit on himself, his employer, the institute and the profession of accountancy (Bye-Law 23(d)).
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)). Cheating in an examination amounted to misconduct.
The disciplinary committee directed that Mr Watters be expelled from the institute.
The committee found that Mr Watters' actions were fundamentally incompatible with student membership of the institute. He was training to become a professional accountant and took one of his steps towards that goal by cheating in an examination. Members of the public would be appalled to think that a person who had gained a qualification in this way could be in charge of public finances.
In reaching its decision, the committee took account of mitigating factors: Mr Watters was of previous good character, and had no previous CIPFA disciplinary findings against him. He had engaged in the regulatory process and had replied to correspondence promptly.
The committee also took into account relevant aggravating factors: Mr Watters had been dishonest and cheated in his exam. The seriousness of his actions was aggravated by his having planned his cheating in advance. He smuggled an electronic device into the examination and deliberately misled the invigilator to try to conceal its presence.
The committee also imposed a costs order against Mr Watters.
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