NEU disciplinary procedures

The NEU Disciplinary Procedures have been carefully drafted to ensure that the process is transparent and fair to all parties but a complaint should not be undertaken lightly. 

As a democratic, lay-led Union in which debate and freedom of speech are paramount, it is inevitable that disputes may arise between members during the course of their Union activity.  The vast majority of these disputes will be resolved through comradely dialogue and within the democratic structures at workplace and branch/district level. 

Where the dispute involves allegation of misconduct in breach of the Union’s expectations, a member may invoke the Union’s Disciplinary Procedure, through which they can bring a complaint to be considered by the Committee known as the National Disciplinary/National Appeals Committee. Taking this step is known as making a complaint under Rule. 

The process 

Members are encouraged to do all they can to resolve disputes/ complaints informally.  The NEU Disciplinary Procedures have been carefully drafted to ensure that the process is transparent and fair to all parties but a complaint should not be undertaken lightly.  The sanctions available to the Committee are serious and include expulsion from the Union.  

Please note that the Disciplinary Procedures do not apply to complaints by members against NEU staff.  There are separate procedures for these complaints which can be found here.

What disputes/complaints fall under the Remit of the NDC/NAC?

Complaints must fall within one or more of the following categories: 

(a) acts contrary to the Code of Professional Conduct of the Union (see page 15 of the NEU Disciplinary Procedure); 

(b) acts contrary to the Rules of the Union; 

(c) refuses to comply with a lawful instruction of the Union; 

(d) is knowingly involved in any fraud on the Union or misappropriation of Union funds or property; 

(e) misuses protected data contrary to the Data Protection Act Licence of the Union; 

(f) frustrates any decision or penalty of the National Disciplinary Committee or National Appeals Committee; or 

(g) in any other way engages in conduct which brings injury or discredit to the Union 

What is the National Disciplinary/National Appeal Committee?

The Committee is made up of elected lay members who each represent one of the 17 electoral districts in England/Wales and Northern Ireland.  Elections to these positions take place every four years and Committee members receive advice and guidance from the Committee Secretaries – senior Union officials. Five members of the full Committee form the NDC and a different five members form the NAC in the event of an appeal. 

How does a member make a complaint under Rule?

Overview

The process involves the Complainant member putting together a case with evidence relating to the breach alleged, under one of the categories set out above.  Once received by the General Secretary, it will be processed and the member complained about, the Respondent, will be notified. Conciliation will usually be offered. If that conciliation is unsuccessful, the Respondent will be asked to submit their response to the complaint, and the procedure will start leading to a hearing at which the case and the respondent’s defence are considered by the Committee.  There may be a Preliminary Review Hearing at which any questions about the jurisdiction of the Committee or the procedure, timeline, witnesses etc can be determined. 

Step by Step - complainant

  • Carefully read the NEU Disciplinary Procedure 
  • Consider asking a friend who is a member of the Union to act as a companion through the process
  • Complete the template and email it to the General Secretary
  • It is good practice (and included in the Code of Professional Conduct) for the complainant to contact the member complained about (‘the respondent’) in advance of submitting the template form
  • In completing the template form, remember the following: 
  • Clearly identify the category/categories (a-g above) under which the complaint falls 
  • Include statements from any witnesses to fact that you would wish to call upon during any hearing. Character witnesses will not be called but their statements can be included with the template
  • Do not include any sensitive, personal information about a third party (email or home addresses, for example)
  • attach all supporting written evidence and witness statements, in A4 format, in the order in which you intend to present the evidence. Only material which is directly relevant to the matters at issue should be included and should be limited to 30 pages other than in exceptional circumstances.

Complaints will not usually be considered unless made within six months of the circumstances giving rise to the complaint.  The Committee can decide that there are exceptional reasons for a complaint made more than six months after the circumstances leading to the complaint.  

Appointment of Committee Secretary

The General Secretary will refer the complaint to the complainant’s Regional/Wales Secretary.  In some circumstances, for example where the RW Secretary has been previously involved in the circumstances leading up to the complaint, the JGSs can appoint a different regional/Wales official to act as Committee Secretary.   

Will a complaint be investigated?

Many of you will be familiar with the disciplinary procedures that operate with your employers which will always include an investigation stage.  This is not the case with most complaints within the remit of the NEU Disciplinary Process. In addition, the Committee Secretary and administrative staff take no part in any decisions or interpretation of the Disciplinary Procedures.  These are solely for the Committee itself.  Staff provide administrative support and advice to the Committee. 

(We note here that the National Officers of the Union do have a specific power to initiate an investigation where it appears that a member may have acted contrary to the Rules of the Union, refuses to comply with a lawful instruction, is knowingly involved in fraud or misappropriation of funds or misuses data.  It is only in these very specific circumstances that an investigation will be carried out by staff of the Union.  In all complaints taken forward by a member of the Union, the Rules provide that it is for the member bringing the complaint to collect all evidence and pursue the complaint.

The role of the companion

Each party shall be entitled to attend the hearing by the Committee accompanied by a friend who shall be a member of the Union with the right to call and examine witnesses. Your companion has an important role in advising and supporting you through the process.  The Committee Secretary and the administrative staff can give advice and guidance to the complainant and the respondent and can seek advice and guidance. Union staff can only give guidance in accordance with the Disciplinary Procedure and cannot provide any direct advice on the progress of a case. This can sometimes cause confusion and even upset to the parties to a complaint but is an important element of the Disciplinary Process.  Only the elected Committees can rule or judge on the facts and evidence before them – staff have no locus in this process.  

Conciliation Stage 

The Committee Secretary will then send the complaint to the member against whom the complaint has been made (‘the respondent’). Sometimes this will be more than one member (‘the respondents’).  Conciliation will then be offered to both parties.  During this period, all time limits within the Procedures are suspended.  Whilst it is hoped that both parties agree to conciliation, if one or both parties do not, then the complaint moves to the next stage.

In some cases, the offer of conciliation to the respondent will be the first they know about the complaint.  This can come as an unpleasant shock to some members.  In the correspondence to the respondent, the Committee Secretary will encourage the respondent to appoint a companion to support them through the process. The Committee Secretary or HQ administrative staff can provide advice and guidance to the respondent and/or the companion at this stage. 

If conciliation is agreed by the parties, it will be facilitated by a member of the Union with not less than ten years’ standing, appointed by the regional/Wales secretary following consultation with executive members for the area who is acceptable to both parties. 

The Committee Secretary takes no part in the conciliation process other than to introduce the parties and the conciliator.  The Conciliator will discuss the process and the timings for the conciliation with all parties.  No written records will be taken at this stage.  The Conciliator will then notify the Committee Secretary whether conciliation has been successful or unsuccessful.  In the event that conciliation is successful, the complaint will be closed and the NDC process will end. 

What happens if Conciliation is not successful or is not accepted?

The complaint will be sent to the respondent(s) who will be given fifteen working days to provide their response to the complaint. 

Step by step - Respondent: 

  • Carefully read the NEU Disciplinary Procedures 
  • Consider asking a friend who is a member of the Union to act as a companion through the process
  • Complete your response and send to the Committee Secretary
  • In drafting your response, remember to specifically respond to the allegation of breach of Rule, Code of Professional Conduct etc.
  • Include statements from any witnesses to fact that you would wish to call upon during any hearing. Character witnesses will not be called but their statements can be included with the template
  • Do not include any sensitive, personal information about a third party (email or home addresses, for example)
  • attach all supporting written evidence and witness statements, in A4 format, in the order in which you intend to present the evidence. Only material which is directly relevant to the matters at issue should be included and should be limited to 30 pages other than in exceptional circumstances.

The complainant will be sent a copy of the response. 

The Committee Secretary will then convene an NDC Panel for a Preliminary Review Meeting.  The complainant and the respondent will be notified of the date of the PRM but will not be required to attend the PRM. 

In advance of the PRM, the Committee will be sent copies of the complaint and the response.

At the PRM, the Committee can make the following decisions: 

  1. the case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the NDC (including time limits, membership and other reasons); 
  2. the case does not fall under any of the disciplinary categories in Appendix A of the Rules; 
  3. There is no case to answer
  4. There is no case to answer and the case is vexatious
  5. The case should proceed to a full hearing.

If the decision of the PRM is (a) - (e) above, you and the respondent(s) will be sent the decision with reasons.  It is not possible to appeal against the decision of a Preliminary Review Panel. 

Arrangements for an NDC Hearing 

If the PRM agrees that the complaint should proceed to a hearing, the parties will be informed and notified of the hearing date.  There will be at least 10 working days’ notice of the hearing.  We usually try and agree the provisional hearing date early in the process so that it is across all diaries.  Hearings are held during normal working hours.  The Committee can, in exceptional circumstances, agree to hold a hearing on a Saturday. 

The bundle of papers will be sent to all parties at least 10 working days in advance of the hearing. 

Witnesses 

Parties can each call up to three witnesses in person.  In exceptional circumstances the Committee may grant permission for a party to call more witnesses. Character witnesses will submit a statement only and shall not attend in person. 

Witness statements should be submitted with the initial complaint or response to the complaint.  Witness statements to include: 

  • A brief Union/career resume from the witness in order to establish their credentials and make clear the relevance of the witness’ evidence to the proceedings.
  • A statement of the relevant facts as perceived by the witness, chronologically or otherwise rationally ordered. 
  • A signed and dated statement that the record is a true and correct record to the best of the witness’ knowledge and belief. 

The Hearing

Any procedural questions raised by either party will be referred to the Committee and will be taken at the outset of the Hearing. 

Hearings will be held in-person, usually in the Committee Secretary’s (and complainant’s) regional/Wales area.  In exceptional circumstances, Hearings will be held online (via zoom).  Separate waiting areas for the two parties and their entourage will be provided (complainant/companion/witnesses and respondent/companion/witnesses).

The Chair of the National Disciplinary Committee will decide the format and timings for the Hearing and confirm these at the outset of the Hearing. The usual format is set out in the NEU Disciplinary Procedures as follows: 

Hearing stages

Stage 1:

  • Any procedural questions raised by either party will be referred to the Committee and will be taken at the outset of the Hearing.
  • The complainant puts forward their complaint with evidence
  • The respondent/their companion questions the complainant
  • The panel can put questions to the complainant
  • The complainant’s witness(es) (if any) each give evidence
  • The respondent or companion can ask questions of the witnesses
  • Members of the panel can ask questions of the witnesses
     

Stage 2: 

  • The respondent defends the claims made by the complainant
  • The complainant/their companion can ask questions of the respondent
  • Members of the panel can ask questions of the respondent
  • The respondent’s witness(es) (if any) can each give evidence
  • The complainant or companion can ask questions of the witnesses
  • Members of the panel can ask questions of the witnesses

Final stage

No new evidence can be introduced at this stage

  • The complainant sums up
  • The respondent sums up 

The panel then adjourns to consider the complaint. 

No persons other than the parties, their friends, and their witnesses when required shall be present at the hearing.

Witnesses 

Parties can each call up to three witnesses in person, unless they have been granted permission by the Committee to call more for exceptional reasons.  Character witnesses will submit a statement only and shall not attend in person. 

Witness statements should be submitted with the initial complaint or response to the complaint.  Witness statements to include: 

  • A brief Union/career resume from the witness in order to establish their credentials and make clear the relevance of the witness’ evidence to the proceedings.
  • A statement of the relevant facts as perceived by the witness, chronologically or otherwise rationally ordered. 
  • A signed and dated statement that the record is a true and correct record to the best of the witness’ knowledge and belief. 

Expenses for attending the Hearing

The national Union will meet travel costs for parties and witnesses but will not reimburse for loss of earnings.  This would be the case if a member was attending an Employment Tribunal as a witness in support of a member.  In exceptional circumstances (acute hardship), a witness can apply to the NDC panel for financial support which would be capped at £50.
 
Outcome of NDC

The parties will be notified of the outcome of the NDC within 10 working days of the Hearing.  Within 20 working days, the parties will be sent a full report of the Hearing which will include the reasons for reaching the decision.  The NDC can apply the following sanctions: 

  1. reprimand and warning as to future conduct;
  2. severe reprimand and censure;
  3. suspension from the Union for a fixed period;
  4. removal from office or accreditation held by the member either indefinitely or for a specified period;
  5. disqualification from holding office or role in the Union either indefinitely or for a specified period;
  6. exclusion from the Union.

Appeal Process 

If a complaint is not found to be justified by the NDC, the member who has made the complaint has a right of appeal limited only to the process or procedures.  The complainant cannot appeal against the substance or merit of the decision – the reasons for the decision in other words. 

If the complaint is upheld, the respondent (the member complained about) has the right of appeal in respect of the finding and the penalty.

An appeal must be submitted to the General Secretary on the appeal template (which will be provided by staff) within 10 working days of receipt of the full decision.  The appeal submission must set out the grounds for the appeal and any supporting documents or evidence including witness statements relating to the process or procedures followed and any paragraphs of the NDC decision which are challenged. 

The same process set out for the NDC is then followed for the appeal hearing. 

Confidentiality

All proceedings shall be confidential save that: 

  1. If the matter proceeds to an NDC or NAC, the outcome will be communicated to the Executive and to the complainants and may be published in such manner as the Executive may decide; 
  2. The Secretary to the NAC reserves the right to inform any relevant party of the referral to, and any decisions of, the Preliminary Review Panel, the NDC or the NAC where this is considered appropriate and necessary.
  3. The format of the outcome reported to the Executive will be limited to the decision of the NDC/NAC and the sanction applied.  The sanction takes effect from the completion of the disciplinary procedures and not when it is reported to the Executive.

A complainant and respondent can speak to witnesses about the complaint when seeking witness statements but must be careful to ensure that anyone they discuss the complaint with is told that the matter must be kept confidential.

Complaints brought by the Officers

There is provision within the Rules for the National Officers to bring a complaint against a member or members. This route would be suitable for complaints brought to the attention of the Officers by a member of staff of the Union, but also those reported by a member of the Union where no other disciplinary process in relation to the matter is underway, whether that is because the member has declined to bring a complaint or because a disciplinary complaint against another individual member of the Union is not well founded or is inappropriate.

The Officers shall consider whether the matter requires further investigation, and if so, shall request the General Secretary to appoint an investigating officer.   The Officers may decide to suspend the relevant member where that is believed to be appropriate. 

When they have seen the investigation report, the Officers will decide that:

  • the matter might be suitable for and capable of resolution through support outside the disciplinary process such as training or guidance; or
  • the matter should proceed to a disciplinary panel.  

How long is the complaint process?

There are various time limits set out in the NEU Disciplinary Procedures and most complaints will be heard within a school/college term. If the matter goes to appeal, this usually takes a further school/college term.  There are time limits set out in the NEU Disciplinary Process (Paragraph G) although in some circumstances these can be set aside by the Committee. 

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Disciplinary procedure complaint process

As a democratic, lay-led Union in which debate and freedom of speech are paramount, it is inevitable that disputes may arise between members during the course of their Union activity.

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