Responding to Show Cause Letters
Responding to Show Cause Letters
If you have received a show cause letter, it is important that you obtain legal advice and assistance with responding to the allegations against you. This applies to people who are both guilty or innocent of the conduct alleged. This article discusses the purpose of show cause letters, the common forms of show cause letters, and why legal advice is so important to ensuring you attain a successful outcome.
What is a Show Cause Letter?
A show cause letter (also known as a show cause notice), is a letter sent to a person which provides them with an opportunity to respond to an allegation mounted against them, before a decision is made in relation to their guilt or innocence and, if necessary, the penalty being proposed.
The show cause letter is often provided to a person pursuant to the principles of “natural justice”, also known as procedural fairness. Natural justice includes the right to a fair hearing, and to ensure this, a person must know the allegations against them in sufficient detail and must also be afforded a fair opportunity to respond to those allegations before a decision is made in relation to their fault.
What are some examples of Show Cause Letters?
Show cause letters appear in various forms and in different areas of law. The most common form of show cause letters, are those which are sent from employers to employees in relation to workplace investigations or workplace disciplinary action for misconduct. This includes public service employees.
Another common form of show cause letters are those sent from regulatory authorities, where allegations of misconduct have arisen and where disciplinary action may be taken. For instance:
- in the case of doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other health practitioners, the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (also known has AHPRA) may issue a show cause letter on a person’s fitness to practice or on a possible impairment.
- in the case of veterinarians in Queensland, the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Queensland may issue a show cause letter on any alleged misconduct.
- For Blue Card Holders in Queensland, Blue Card Services may issue a show cause letter requesting submissions on a person’s criminal history or experience with children.
- in the case of solar panel electricians, they may receive a show cause letter from the Clean Energy Council or the Clean Energy Regulator.
- in the case of teachers in Queensland, the Queensland College of Teachers or the Department of Education may issue a show cause letter in relation to workplace misconduct.
- In the case of Security Guards, Real Estate Agents, Car Dealers, Electricians and various other professionals in Queensland, the Office of Fair Trading may issue a show cause letter in relation to any allegations which may warrant their licences being revoked.
For the examples listed above, the letter might now always be called a “show cause letter”. In many cases, it may simply be called an opportunity to “provide submissions” or “respond to the allegations”. It may also be called something different. In each case, however, the process is essentially the same as a traditional show cause letter, in that a person is being provided with an opportunity to respond to the allegations before a decision is made.
Why you should not attempt to respond yourself
Many people are tempted to respond to the show cause letters themselves. The desire to do so is often because they are trying to save on legal costs. This strategy often backfires when they are unsuccessful, after which the appeal process can be even more costly. People who chose to respond to show cause letters themselves without legal assistance, often result in unsuccessful outcomes since:
- People may take on an unnecessary and overly adversarial approach, which may be counterintuitive in an employment and disciplinary situation.
- People are not familiar with the legislative framework involved in their matters, or the evidentiary and procedural rules associated with the process, a task which is better left to legal practitioners experienced in that area of law.
- A person who is subject to an investigation is emotionally involved, which almost always affects their judgment (even if they are sophisticated and well educated).
- Persons subject to a show cause letters are often stressed and anxious, which can lead them to making poor decisions when responding, including mounting allegations against others which are unrelated.
- People are not usually adept at gauging the weight of the evidence against them for each allegation and misjudge the strength of their case, thus affecting their strategy and response.
- For those who are guilty of some or all of the conduct alleged, they are usually not experienced in appropriately setting out mitigating circumstances or rehabilitative steps (including insight, remorse, and corrective steps taken).
- People who become defensive have a tenancy of either victim blaming, downplaying the severity of their conduct, or making unrelated or irrelevant submissions in relation to other complaints they have (for instance, workplace conditions), non of which will advance their defense or positions.
- In many cases, allegations may include allegations of criminality, and a person’s response to a show cause letter can be used against them as evidence presented by the Police prosecutors. Show cause letters are not required to advise people on their right to silence, and in some cases people can inadvertently incriminate themselves in a show cause letter, which could leave to a criminal conviction, a criminal history, fines, and even incarceration.
The importance of obtaining legal assistance when responding to show cause letters
Potts Lawyers has solicitors experienced in responding to a wide variety of show cause letters in employment, disciplinary, and regulatory scenarios.
Lawyers who are experienced at responding to show cause letters are best equipped to protect your interests since they are experienced at:
- Attending to any procedural matters (extensions of time, request for better particulars, etc);
- Obtaining your comprehensive instructions in relation to the allegations;
- Reviewing the legislative framework relevant to your matter;
- Assessing the weight of the evidence for each allegation;
- Preparing a strategy on how to respond to each allegation;
- Where appropriate, taking steps which are not adversarial but cooperative in nature;
- Drafting comprehensive and persuasive submissions in support of your position;
- Advising you on the likely level of disciplinary action possible (if any);
- If some of the allegations are substantiated, responding to any further show cause letters on proposed penalties.
What should you do if you receive a Show Cause Letter?
If you receive a Show Cause Letter, or any letter which sets out allegations against you and which provides you an opportunity to respond to the allegations, you should contact Potts Lawyers immediately.
When your employment or license is at stake, which is your livelihood and only source of your income, steps should be taken to obtain the best possible representation so that your interests are fully protected.
This is especially true when you consider the imbalance of power between employers and employees, since employers will have more resources, including additional resources to investigate the allegations. A significant imbalance of power also exists between regulatory agencies and their registrants or licensees.
Potts Lawyers have successfully represented clients, from entry level positions to executives, in both the public and private sectors, with respect to responding to show cause letters. Limitation periods apply for responding to show cause letters, so recipients of such letters should contact lawyers immediately.
Potts Lawyers are highly experienced in this area of law, and can offer free consultations to individuals who are in this position, so that they can obtain timely expert advice on a strategy which maximises their prospects of succeeding.