The Code of Conduct
It is the Code, and the fact that the Institute can take steps to uphold it, that makes CIPR Members accountable for the standard of their professional and personal conduct. This accountability is an essential part of being a Chartered Institute and serving the public interest. It is a valuable asset, both to Members, and to those who hire or employ them.
Anyone can make a complaint to the Institute if they believe a CIPR Member (or others for whom they are directly responsible) may have breached the Code. We treat complaints seriously and carefully. For the sake of our Members, as well as the people who have complained, we must be fair, equal and rigorous.
The Independent Complaints Process
The CIPR’s Complaints process is run independently of the organisation itself. No current CIPR Board or Council member is allowed to sit on the Professional Standards Panel, or on the separate Appeals Panels. This serves to separate ‘the government from the court’ so to speak.
The CIPR members of the panels are all experienced, senior practitioners in public relations. In addition, the panels also contain lay members, people experienced in holding disciplinary or professional standards hearings in other organisations or Institutions.
The CIPR does not to publish the names of those on the panels in case they become targeted in a high-profile case. There are currently some 12 CIPR members and six lay members available to be chosen for hearings.
In addition, the complaints process is managed by an independent Regulatory Consultant who acts as an honest broker between the complainant and the member responding to the complaint. The consultant’s first duty is to seek mediation or conciliation between the parties.
The complaints process requires all parties to a complaint to maintain confidentiality throughout. The CIPR will not confirm or deny the existence of a complaint – indeed the CIPR itself will not normally know the details of any complaint or the names of those involved. Furthermore, it does not comment on any disciplinary matter until a final adjudication has been made - and even then, only in certain circumstances.
If no agreement is reached between the parties involved in a complaint, then a Professional Standards Panel hearing is called, and the Regulatory Consultant will help both parties to assemble their evidence file. In cases where the available evidence supports it, the consultant can also advise that a summary panel hearing is appropriate.
Download a guide to our complaints process (pdf).
A PSP Hearing
Each hearing typically consists of five people chosen from the panel members: three CIPR members and two lay members. The hearing considers the evidence and any testimonies to determine whether the individual, in a professional or personal capacity, has breached the code of conduct or not; and if so, what level of sanction is appropriate.
Sanctions range from letters of advice or warning, to suspension or termination of membership. The panel could also require a CIPR consultant member to return all or part of the fees charged for work that the panel considers substandard. The panel and the CIPR cannot award damages, so if the complainant requires further compensation, they would need to take legal action.
Should a panel hearing elect to terminate a membership, the CIPR Board is informed of that decision as soon as any appeal process has concluded. The CIPR then enacts that decision, and it has no power to ignore it.
As a Chartered body, the Institute is expected to act in the public interest and its regulations clearly state that any decision to remove someone from membership will be communicated. This communication, in some circumstances, could also include an explanation of any professional breaches that could serve as guidance or learnings for members.
In other cases, particularly those concerning personal activity or issues involving the confidentiality of third parties, it is not appropriate or necessary to publish further details as there are no professional learnings that could result. The decision however is still published.
For further information or advice on the CIPR Code of Conduct and the processes that support it, please contact:
Kevin Taylor, CIPR Regulatory Consultant