Engage, don’t hide

We previously reported on the Breen and Brothers decisions, two registered professionals who let their professional indemnity insurance lapse and were given a formal warning as a result. Both were also ordered to pay costs, of £900 and £1200 respectively. IPReg has now issued a further decision which highlights the importance of both maintaining proper PII and also engaging properly with the regulator when an issue arises.

Anthony Burrows let his insurance lapse, despite reminders from his insurer, PAMIA. After this came to the attention of IPReg, he then tried to obtain both retrospective insurance and insurance going forward, but PAMIA was not willing – citing the fact that he had continued to practise without insurance in the intervening period. IPReg then started disciplinary proceedings. As might be expected, Mr Burrows was found to be in the wrong. These cases are somewhat open and shut – PII is not something that exists in the quantum uncertainty realm, in a superposition of both present and not present until observed by an external entity, it is a real thing that you either have or you don’t. Mr Burrows didn’t. However, IPReg’s decision was to expel him from the Registers of Patent Attorneys and Trade Mark Attorneys, permanently, recommend to the UKIPO, EPO, EUIPO, CIPA and CITMA that they also expel him or withdraw recognition (as appropriate), and order payment of around £22k in costs. That’s obviously rather harsher than the Breen and Brothers decisions – why?

The reason lies in his level of engagement with the IPReg process – or rather non-engagement. At the Case Management Conference Mr Burrows asserted that he had a defence, thus requiring a full Disciplinary Board hearing. The nature of that defence was never made clear, because his response to the deadlins set for him to file evidence was to request extensions of time and postponements of the hearing date. By the time the hearing date arrived, multiple requests for extensions of his evidence deadline had been received, no evidence had been submitted, and there does not appear to have been any clear indication of what the evidence might have shown.

There is a clear indication that there were some health problems for both Mr Burrows and his assistant*. Sympathy is due in that respect. However, we are professionals… we are here to help the public with something they don’t understand, and we invite them to trust us to deal with on their behalf. If we are unable to deal with an annual request to renew our PII cover, then we need to ask ourselves whether we should be in practice.

So Mr Burrows’ only engagement with the disciplinary process was to force IPReg to hold a full investigation and hearing – otherwise he did not cooperate with it. Whether that was for health reasons of because he was too busy firefighting on behalf of his clients (which is suggested in the decision) is not particularly relevant, as both are red flags for the quality of service provided to clients. So, explusion from the Register and full costs it was.

Mr Burrows then appealed against the IPReg decision – the first ever such appeal. It was referred to Philip Stott, barrister, who noted that the notice of appeal was a bare statement with no explanation and set a deadline for Mr Burrows to provide the grounds of his appeal. Despite several extensions of time, no such grounds were provided… this seems to be a pattern? Notwihstanding this, Mr Stott carefully reviewed every element of the IPReg decision and found that he agreed with it and that it had a proper basis. So the only effect of the appeal was to add around £4k to the costs bill for Mr Burrows.

There’s a pretty clear message here… keep your PII cover in place and make sure that you treat the disciplinary process with respect…

*quite properly, IPReg’s published decision is redacted in this respect

(Photo by Simon Infanger on Unsplash… thank you Simon)

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