Code of conduct for the arbitration of grievances

Preamble

1. The formal grievance procedure may be initiated when a person has made a complaint about any member, office bearer, or member of staff of the National Postgraduate Committee in relation to their position within the committee, or a complaint has been made regarding the behaviour of a person at any meeting or event organised by the Committee (including breaches of the Committee's Equal Opportunities Policy), and it has not been possible to informally settle the dispute between the parties concerned. There are two purposes to holding a formal arbitration: firstly, as a final chance to settle the dispute without the need for any formal action; and secondly, in the event that any member of the Committee considers taking formal action, to ensure that both parties have a fair chance to present their case. It is in the interests of the Committee that all grievances should be arbitrated as quickly and fairly as possible.

2. These guidelines do not have binding authority; it is acknowledged that situations may arise where the procedure outlined here would not be appropriate. They are, however, recommended by the Committee as good practice and natural justice, and the Chairperson must be prepared to explain to the Constitutional Subcommittee any deviation from these guidelines in the event that an appeal goes to the Constitutional Subcommittee. Any deviations from this procedure must, however, still be in line with By-Law 7.2.

The arbiter

3. Under normal circumstances, grievances shall be formally arbitrated by the Chairperson. The Chairperson may call in expert witnesses if necessary, but the Chairperson shall retain overall responsibility for ensuring the arbitration is carried out fairly. In particular, the Chairperson should not attempt to influence the outcome by calling in expert witnesses whom he/she believes would be biased. If the Chairperson has any reasons to believe that he/she could not handle the case without bias, he/she should pass responsibility to the reserve arbiter appointed by the Constitutional Subcommittee. This must happen when the Chairperson is the person who made complaint, or the person whom the complaint is being made against.

The arbitration

4. Only the following people should be involved in the formal arbitration process: (a) the arbiter (b) the person who made the grievance; (c) the person whom the grievance was made against; (d) if either party wishes, one person nominated by each of the parties involved (or more, at the arbiter's discretion); and (e) any witnesses called in as necessary. The other members of the Constitutional Sub-Committee shall be kept informed of the proceedings, but should not directly involve themselves in arbitration, nor should they attempt to influence the outcome other than by advising the Chairperson of any relevant regulations.

5. If a physical meeting is called, which may be necessary for serious or complex cases, it should be held at a time and location convenient to all parties concerned. Any meeting should be recorded, and written notes produced. The parties shall as a matter of course be heard separately unless they unanimously assent to the others being present when heard.

6. Due to the geographical spread of the Committee, it is anticipated that for less serious cases, arbitration by remote means may be more appropriate. If arbitration is carried out by telephone, the conversation should be recorded and notes produced. If arbitration is carried out by post or e-mail, copies of all correspondence should be kept. The arbiter should not communicate with either party by any means that are not transcribable.

7. The arbitration should ideally begin within seven days of the formal complaint being made. This should begin with both sides being given the opportunity to make their case. It is suggested that the arbiter should begin by establishing what is in dispute. It is possible that an agreement may be reached at this stage, without the need for the Committee to make a judgement.

8. How the arbitration proceeds after this point is up to the arbiter - the level of formality needed will vary from case to case. It may be appropriate to take a conciliation approach to minor grievance cases; whereas a dispute over an officer's implementation of Committee policy may require a much drier and a more legalistic presentation.

9. Both sides must have an equal chance to speak. Either or both parties may nominate their accompanying person to speak on their behalf, but such opportunities must be given equally and fairly to both sides. Each side must know what the other side says to the arbiter, and have full opportunity to answer it. In exceptional circumstances where there are valid reasons why the either side should be allowed to communicate to the arbiter in confidence, the arbiter must consult the other side on this matter before making a decision, although the final decision shall still rest with the arbiter.

10. If there are disputes about facts, the arbiter may cross-examine either or both parties, or invite witnesses to give evidence. Any witness who does give evidence must be open for questioning by both sides.

11. The entire arbitration process should be kept confidential unless both parties agree that information may be made public.

The verdict

12. A verdict should normally be given within 21 days of the start of the formal arbitration process. If this is not possible, the arbiter should inform the Committee of the reasons for the delay with an estimate of how long the delay will be.

13. After the arbitration is completed, the arbiter shall report on the proceedings of the appeal to the Committee. Due to the complexity and/or sensitivity of the case discussed, it may well be necessary for the arbiter's report to only summarise the evidence heard in the proceedings. However, the summary must be fair and accurate, and, in particular, the arbiter must not withhold any evidence that could conceivably influence the Committee's decision on how to act on a case.

14. The arbiter cannot mandate the Committee or any officer to take action as a result of the grievance, but may make recommendations if he/she wishes. Whether a course of action should be recommended to the Committee is up to the arbiter, and will depend on the nature of the grievance discussed. If the grievance relates to a political matter, it is probably better to allow the Committee to make the final decision. If the grievance relates to breaches of the Equal Opportunities Policy or other disciplinary matters, the following is recommended:

(a) The arbiter must protect the rights of all members and guests to be assumed innocent until guilt is proven. If a grievance cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt, and the complainant still wishes to take the matter to a General Meeting, the arbiter should recommend that no action should be taken.

(b) If a grievance is upheld, it is recommended that the arbiter should, in the first instance, give the person responsible a written warning. The arbiter may, in addition: report the matter to the organisation the person represents and/or the Committee; and/or request he/she apologises to the complainant and/or the Committee.

(c) Further action should normally only be taken if a person offends again after have received a written warning, or if the upheld grounds for complaint were serious. (The SCVO guidelines on disciplinary procedures should be used as a guide for when such action should be taken.) If the General Secretary or Management Sub-Committee takes action against such a person, this should be reported to the Committee. If the recommended action requires the approval of a General Meeting, this should be proposed by the appropriate motion or procedural motion.

15. After the verdict has been made, all records relating to the grievance should be archived, and made available to the constitutional subcommittee should they receive an appeal.