Anyone defending themselves against serious complaints or allegations needs to make a record of:
- The initial events and circumstances;
- The background to the situation; and
- An up to date account of the subsequent events as the complaint is investigated.
Don’t forget to include everything that happens in any investigation that follows because often the investigation process is as damaging as the initial incident. Log it and you’ll get some peace of mind from the fact that you’re taking your own steps to defend yourself.
The case of professionals with indemnity
This guidance is especially true for professionals who are subject to regulation. Even though you may have an indemnity organisation to support you, as do doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers and social workers, you must protect yourself as much as those with no provision for support.
Indemnity organisations do not work for you personally
Remember that your indemnity organisation works for the overall membership and not just for you. You may therefore find that they have split loyalties when deciding between meeting the costs of your defence and preserving your reputation. For example, they will prioritise defending you against costs, loss of earnings etc but less so against the more abstract yet still personally damaging effects on your reputation of libellous publicity.
They will also often be very familiar with the regulatory body for your profession, spending much of their time in regular interaction and negotiation with the same people from the regulator and they may have a comfortable level of compromise established. This may mean that they decline to take steps, such as complaining about how the regulator is acting. In my experience with the General Medical Council, for example, the GMC was frankly criticised as ‘a kangaroo court’ in private meetings with my indemnity organisation but nothing was said or done when they actually acted as one.
Top tips for defending yourself successfully
Perhaps you’re being complained about at work because of something you have done or even perhaps just said. Whether it’s a complaint about your professional conduct or an attack on your right to free speech, always keep records.
- Make a written record;
- Save any supporting evidence. In addition to documents, if you are being referred to in social media for example, keep screenshots. Voice messages can be uploaded by playing them into an audio recorder from another device;
- Include all social and emotional consequences on you and on those close to you, as well as the more obvious financial and physical consequences. For example, if you cannot pursue some of your normal activities, if you feel you have to avoid certain people or if you have to do something you wouldn’t normally, record the situations when these issues manifested themselves. This gives a fuller and more realistic picture of the harm done to you.
- Prepare a chronology so you can show how events unfolded over time and can easily explain what has happened to anyone advising or helping you.
- Make sure you keep a parallel record of how any investigation was conducted. You may wish to make your own complaint about what has happened to you.
- Keep noting events even if it seems repetitive because that is the only way that you will produce convincing evidence of the persistence and overall impact of the situation.
- Don’t part with your evidence but share copies. You can’t be sure that others, for example the police, will keep track of your paperwork.
- Many people involved in these kinds of cases feel suicidal and unsupported. Don’t try to be brave and deny how you are feeling – get support.