On 24 May and 27 and 28 June 2022 a Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (“CIPFA”) heard allegations against CIPFA Registered Student Mr Mohammed Yousef Walizada.
Mr Walizada appealed against the Disciplinary Committee’s decisions. The appeal was heard by the Appeal Committee on 3 and 4 November 2022. The appeal was not upheld.
Disciplinary Committee Attendance
Mr Walizada attended the hearing and represented himself.
The Disciplinary Committee Hearing
Mr Walizada was a CIPFA Registered Student in September 2020.
On 7 September 2020 Mr Walizada undertook CIPFA’s International Public Financial Management Public Finance (PF) examination. He undertook the examination on-line, at his workplace with a local invigilator who was in attendance, in person.
The examination was due to be conducted in accordance with CIPFA’s Assessment Regulations, which prohibit access to unauthorised materials during a CIPFA examination. The invigilator recorded no issues with the exam sitting.
When Mr Walizada’s examination script was marked, the examiner had concerns about the similarity, and, in some places, identical match, between the answers provided by Mr Walizada and both the course materials and the answers provided by another candidate sitting the same exam at the same workplace. The concerns related to all nine of the answers on Mr Walizada’s examination script.
In a response provided during CIPFA’s investigations, Mr Walizada advised CIPFA that similarities arose with the course materials as he had memorised them. At his hearing Mr Walizada admitted that he had copied two or three answers in collaboration with another candidate at work, having had access to that candidate’s script by using a USB stick to swap exam answers whilst the exam invigilator left the exam room for a short period. He denied having access to course materials during the examination and continued to maintain that he had memorised the materials.
The Committee examined the workbooks and the examination script and considered and accepted Mr Walizada’s admission. It also heard and considered evidence of Mr Walizada’s qualities as a person and his capability in the workplace from a character witness who worked with him and was a friend. His previous good character was taken into consideration by the Committee.
The Committee found that Mr Walizada had access to the other candidate’s examination script when answering all of the examination questions and that, in consequence, his answers to all nine of the exam questions were identical, or very similar, to that of Candidate 1. In addition, it found that Mr Walizada had access to the course materials during his examination when answering eight of the nine questions on his examination script taking account of the identical, or very similar, wording between his exam script and the course materials. It was not able to accept his explanation of rote learning of every detail of complex technical prose. However, it did accept that the text in one answer may have been memorised. The Committee considered that it was not possible for Mr Walizada to have been able to provide the answers that he did without access to unauthorised materials.
The Committee found that Mr Walizada’s conduct was dishonest and lacking in integrity and that he had breached the Institute’s Code of Ethics’ requirements of integrity and professional behaviour. He was also in breach of the Institute’s Assessment Regulations and had sought to gain an unfair advantage over other examination candidates. The decision to take advantage of the short absence of the invigilator was opportunistic and deliberate.
The Disciplinary Committee’s findings on breach of the Institute’s Bye-Laws
The Committee found that Mr Waliazda’s actions brought, or were likely to bring, discredit on himself, the Institute and the profession of accountancy (Bye-Law 23(d)).
His unethical conduct affected prejudicially the status, reputation or welfare of CIPFA (Bye-Law 23(b) and (c)). Cheating in an examination amounted to misconduct.
Sanction and relevant considerations
The Disciplinary Committee directed that Mr Walizada be expelled from the Institute.
The Committee found that Mr Walizada’s conduct was a serious breach of the Bye-Laws and no lessor sanction was appropriate. His actions were fundamentally incompatible with continued CIPFA membership. In reaching its decision, the Committee took account of mitigating factors; Mr Walizada was of previous good character, he had no previous CIPFA disciplinary findings against him and he was his family’ main breadwinner.
The Committee also took into account what it considered to be aggravating factors; Mr Walizada’s dishonest conduct, although taking place on a single day, was at the high end of the levels of dishonesty, that the dishonesty involved two prohibited acts, that it happened in the hope of obtaining CIPFA membership and that there was appreciable harm to the Institute.
The Committee also found it of significance that Mr Walizada showed limited insight, despite the overwhelming nature of the evidence against him, that he had only made admissions as a result of having been made aware of admissions made by the other candidate and that he showed little remorse.
The Committee had regard to the determination in the case of the other candidate but found that there were a number of factors in play that meant that there would be a material difference in sanction including early admissions, greater insight and health issues.
The Committee also imposed a costs order against Mr Walizada.
The Appeal Committee Hearing
The Appeal Committee identified, and permitted Mr Walizada’s appeal to proceed upon, two grounds advanced by Mr Walizada: (1) that the Disciplinary Committee gave insufficient weight or drew incorrect conclusions from any material before it (in that it did not accept Mr Walizada’s explanation for the similarities between his script and both that of the other candidate and the course materials), and, (2) that there should have been parity of sanction between himself and the other candidate and that the sanction was excessive. Mr Walizada also challenged the costs order on the grounds of his income and the lack of parity with the costs order imposed on the other candidate.
The Appeal Committee carefully considered the evidence before, and reasoning of, the Disciplinary Committee and undertook its own review of the relevant exam scripts and course materials. It considered that sufficient weight had been given to Mr Walizada’s evidence by the Disciplinary Committee. It noted that it had rejected his explanation for the similarities between his script and both that of the other candidate and the course workbooks. The Appeal Committee found the Disciplinary Committee’s decisions to be correct.
As regards sanction, the Appeal Committee considered that the sanction imposed upon Mr Walizada did not have to be the same as that imposed on the other candidate. There were differences between the two matters in relation to the allegations, level of insight shown, mitigation and the candidates’ individual circumstances. The Appeal Committee noted that the Disciplinary Committee had considered Mr Walizada’s mitigation and the sanctions guidance and found that the sanction of expulsion was the only appropriate one. The Appeal Committee considered cheating and dishonesty to be extremely serious and found that the Disciplinary Committee had adopted the correct approach in its consideration of the seriousness of Mr Walizada’s actions, his limited insight and his lack of remorse.
In all of the circumstances, including that no aspect of the appeal was upheld, the Appeal Committee determined not to vary the Disciplinary Committee’ costs order.
Taking account of Mr Walizada’s financial position, the Appeal Committee did not impose a further costs order in relation to the appeal.
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