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On 10 May 2021 a Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy ("CIPFA") heard allegations against CIPFA Registered Student Mr Pradeep Waddon.
Mr Waddon attended the hearing with a legal representative, Mr Alyas of Counsel.
Mr Waddon became a CIPFA Registered Student in January 2016. At the time of the disciplinary committee hearing he was employed in a senior management role within Employer A's finance team with his responsibilities including payments and treasury management.
In March 2020 Mr Waddon undertook CIPFA's Strategic Public Finance (SPF) examination. He was familiar with the examination process, having taken a range of different CIPFA examinations before and failed a number of them, including an earlier attempt at the SPF examination
The examination was conducted in accordance with CIPFA's Assessment Regulations, which prohibit access to unauthorised material and software, including unauthorised web extensions, during a CIPFA examination.
When Mr Waddon's examination script was marked, the examiner had concerns about the similarity, and in some places exact match, between three passages in his answers and material available on the internet. The examiner noted that these parts of the script were almost technically perfect, well written and well punctuated, in stark contrast to another answer that was poorly typed and constructed and did not really answer the question posed. This was suggestive to the examiner of the student having copied and pasted material during the examination.
The local invigilator for the examination, based at Mr Waddon's place of work, was consulted but there was no record of any incident during the examination.
The issues raised by the examiner, and a special consideration request made by Mr Waddon (based on extenuating circumstances relating to his health), were considered by CIPFA's Examination Panel. It determined to withhold the SPF examination result and refer the matter to the institute's disciplinary scheme (the scheme), an outcome that was notified to Mr Waddon.
After being contacted by the scheme, Mr Waddon admitted that he had looked for ways to pass the SPF examination by searching through his laptop while the examination was in progress. He did not know what had come over him but had felt scared and a fear of being a failure. He had no intention to cheat, or thoughts of doing so, in advance of the examination. He expressed embarrassment, humiliation and shame for his actions, which he stated were the biggest mistake of his life and were taken when he was in an unstable frame of mind. He asked for forgiveness, with deep sorrow and repentance, for his actions.
Before the disciplinary committee, Mr Waddon admitted accessing the internet during his examination. When he saw the online examination paper he was unable to process the information and spontaneously searched his laptop for answers to some questions and cut and pasted them. He stated that he had never done anything like this before. He understood that his actions were wrong, but they were unintentional and not pre-planned.
He produced various character references attesting to his hard work, honesty and trustworthiness in his employment and the alleged matters being out of character. Mr Waddon 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 Waddon's examination script, the committee accepted Mr Waddon's admissions.
Mr Waddon 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 Waddon, as a person in a senior position, should have been setting an example for his colleagues but his dishonest behaviour did the opposite. Honesty, probity and integrity are essential tenets of the profession and cheating in an examination would be considered deplorable by fellow members of the profession. Mr Waddon's actions were a serious departure from the standards expected of him as a member of the institute and brought discredit on Mr Waddon, the institute and the accountancy profession.
The disciplinary committee directed that Mr Waddon be suspended from the institute for a period of 12 months.
While the committee acknowledged that, ordinarily, dishonestly cheating in an exam would be considered fundamentally incompatible with Institute membership, it found this to be a rare case where exceptional personal circumstances, including health issues (which were heard in private by the committee), allowed it not to order an expulsion.
In reaching its decision, the committee took account of mitigating factors: Mr Waddon was of previous good character, had engaged in the regulatory process and had made full, early admissions. He expressed remorse and apology for his behaviour, which was an isolated incident, and showed developing insight. Mr Waddon had produced positive references and was spoken of very highly by senior colleagues. There were significant personal stress and health factors at play.
The committee also took into account relevant aggravating factors: Mr Waddon had been dishonest, he occupies a position of responsibility and he should have been setting an example. His actions undermined CIPFA's examination process, and he had applied for special considerations knowing that he had cheated but before he was aware that his actions were to be investigated.
The committee considered there was little risk of Mr Waddon cheating in any future examination. He had learnt a salutary and painful lesson and was taking active steps to manage his health condition. In all of the circumstances, the committee was satisfied that a period of suspension for 12 months would appropriately mark the seriousness of Mr Waddon's actions and show how close he had come to being expelled. The committee also imposed a costs order against Mr Waddon.
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