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29 October 2013

Why do we need a Standards Committee?: It was a Chess Scotland decision to set up a committee which would look at unresolved complaints and take action where appropriate.  Chess Scotland lays down the rules to control how the committee is to work and appoints the members.

What is our function?: To deal with any serious issues and disputes that arise within the Scottish Chess Community where local attempts at resolution have been tried but have failed.  For clarity we define the complainer as the person raising a complaint while the respondent is the person or body against whom the complaint is being made.

Are we proactive?: No, we only respond to complaints. If nobody complains we do nothing in our Standards Committee role.

Who are we?: The SC consists of seven members all of whom are volunteers, currently only one of us is a Director of Chess Scotland (but not on the Management Board). The list of members can be found on the CS website along with our Operating Procedures and suggestions as to the correct way to raise a complaint. The members are selected to represent geography, gender and range of expertise.

Can a complaint be time-barred?: Yes, but we are sensitive to how a complaint might progress. Currently the Operating Procedure mentions 42 days (six weeks). Because of our insistence that local resolution is the first stage then the clock is not necessarily started at the exact moment of the incident. For example, considering cases at either the individual or subsequent local level may take some time. Provided we have evidence that the process was started we take that into account. By the same token if someone waited until the last week of  the six week period to start to achieve resolution then this would not be looked on with favour. So we try to use common sense and not be too harsh.

Are there restrictions on the areas we deal with?:  Yes. First, if the complainer indicates that legal action may be involved the Standards Committee will not consider the complaint. The procedure might be re-started if legal action is withdrawn.  Second, there are certain sectors of Chess Scotland who are better able to deal with certain issues e.g. in relation to arbiter matters (Arbiters Committee), grading (Chief Grader) or PVG (PVG Lead Signatory).

Why is there a fee to raise a complaint?: Dealing with any complaint takes time and we prefer to only deal with the serious issues. On the discussion forum, mention of a possible referral to the Standards Committee can crop up but often this is written in the heat of the moment - perhaps for something relatively unimportant. That is not what we are there for - we are the last port of call for important complaints if all other avenues to resolution fail. The fee is to discourage the trivial cases and, hopefully, increase the chance of a local resolution. If the complaint is well-founded and/or made in good faith the fee is refundable. 

Are you really independent?: Oh yes! No Committee member has any paid role in Chess Scotland and where there is any question of a conflict of interest in relation to a case, the member concerned does not sit on the Panel.  What we try to do, and to the best of our ability, is to judge each situation fairly and come to a sensible and defendable decision.  The Committee and any Panel works on the basis of review and discussion leading to consensus.  Having said that, the Operating Procedures provides further protection in that any dissenting member of the Panel shall be entitled to deliver a separate opinion, which shall be appended to the decision.  No one individual can control the outcome of a case.  

How is a complaint dealt with?: Perhaps the best way to understand is to use a fictitious example. Let us say there is a dispute between two (or more) individuals (or organisations). One party raises a complaint with us and sends an email to the Chairman. He sends back a  question - have you tried a local resolution? If 'no' is the reply then it is insisted an attempt is made first. If that fails then usually the complaint is taken to the next level and should be dealt with by the organisation responsible at the time of the incident. For example, if the dispute occurred at a league match then that league would be expected to attempt some resolution. Again this is an effort to seek a satisfactory outcome as close to source and time of occurrence as possible. If the efforts to settle the matter fail  then the matter comes to the SC. If we decide it is 'competent' (basically both serious enough and within our remit) then we will start our process and ask for a completed Cover Sheet and all relevant information.

What is the SC process?: The Cover Sheet is circulated to all SC members in order to decide who is to sit on the Panel (which has to consist of three or more members). At this stage each member decides if they should disallow themselves from selection as a possible panel member. There are lots of reasons why a member may disallow him/herself e.g. one of the parties in the dispute may be a fellow club member or close friend. In all cases so far, each member has disallowed her/himself on at least one occasion. So no member has been available or selected for every Panel. The Panel then selects a Chairperson, usually the Chairman or Deputy Chairman.  In practice any member of the Committee can chair a Panel, except for a Director of CS.

How does the Panel operate?: The various parties are asked to provide all relevant information in writing including the names of any witnesses or any other corroborating evidence. Any additional complaint or information provided after completion of the process cannot be considered. Witnesses are informed that their evidence will be kept strictly confidential. Normally, all information is provided by email or letter and no personal discussions take place. Occasionally the Panel may decide to hear oral evidence and may decide to use the option of a telephone conference call or Skype connection.

Can I demand a hearing by way of a meeting?: No. It is for the Panel to decide whether they wish to process the complaint by written evidence or by arranging a hearing. Normally, the Panel will simply look at the written submissions from the complainer and the respondent and reach their decision without requiring oral evidence.

If there is a hearing, can I bring another person with me?: Depending on your circumstances, we may give you the option, or perhaps even insist, that you invite a representative to assist you.

Why is information confidential?: One of the challenges faced by the Standards Committee is the need to respect confidentiality. A simple examination of the website's discussion forum makes it clear that witnesses could be subject to persistent abuse and harassment.  We are also aware that evidence provided may not be comprehensive or completely accurate and so to be given credence this needs to be supported by at least one other completely independent source. The corroboration could be witness statements or documents.

How is the decision made and what then happens?: The Panel will reach their decision (either unanimously or by majority). Sometimes a decision requires a sanction or penalty to be applied. The Panel then writes separate letters in confidence to the complainer and the respondent. Depending on the Panel's judgment, the contents of the two letters may be different. The Panel also informs the rest of the Standards Committee (who also receive copies of the letters) but they can make no further input (remember some may have disallowed themselves). Normally, the President of Chess Scotland would be fully informed about the Panel's decision.

What then?: At this point the involvement of the Standards Committee ceases and no further correspondence or discussion will be entered into. 

Why no correspondence/discussion after decision?: Well, the committee exists to collect and assess evidence, to make a final decision and then allow everybody to move on. There is no scope for the committee to change a decision.  There is therefore no point in trying to argue about a decision after it has been given; this would just be a waste of everyone's time. In future, a set of pre-formed replies will be used to respond to post-decision enquires.

Involvement of outside parties: Only the parties directly involved will be given any information. Any enquires or comments from others will be ignored. The reasons for this are obvious.

Why are the nature of the complaints and the decisions not made public?: Decisions are reported at the AGM but the nature of the complaint is not detailed. Within the small Scottish Chess community it is often relatively easy to identify an incident and thus determine (or 'guess') the individuals involved. This again comes to the heart of confidentiality. In most cases it is neither necessary nor helpful for the wider chess community to know who and why. Indeed if you were a party to a complaint which was ruled against you would you want everyone to know about your personal details?

What happens if confidentiality is broken?: Basically nothing. All communications (including evidence and outcomes) are received and sent by the Standards Committee under a confidential heading. If any party chooses to disclose that information then there is nothing we will do about it. This may then result in 'skewed' information being publically available but members of Chess Scotland should realise that all information has been considered and that any outcome is judged on all the evidence, not just from one side or the other. 

Can I suggest changes or improvements in how your operate?: Yes. The Standards Committee is a relatively new body within Chess Scotland and as such there is a 'learning process'. If you have helpful suggestions then send these in writing (or email) to the Chairman and they will be considered. We will probably not enter into a debate with you but if we agree that your suggestion would be an improvement, we will ask the AGM to include it within our Operating Procedures.

Where can I find more information?: These comments do not over-rule the full Operating Procedures of the Standards Committee which are laid down by the Annual General Meeting.  We are simply giving examples and information on how we function and answer some of the more common questions that arise.  Should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of either needing to make a serious complaint or, worse still, being on the receiving end of one then please read carefully the documents on the website.

What about an Appeal?: Any of the parties to a dispute can, in certain circumstances, make an appeal to the Appeal Board in writing within 14 days of receiving the decision of the Standards Committee.

The grounds on which a valid appeal can be raised are contained in Chapter 10 of  the Operating Procedures.  The Appeal Board has separate members from the Standards Committee.

The Appeal will be considered by the Appeal Board who will, if the appeal is valid, form a Panel of three or more Appeal Board members who have no direct connection with the case.  The Standards Committee will provide all the evidence upon which the decision was made, to the Appeal Board.

If the Board rules that the appeal is competent, it may call for further evidence from all relevant parties, including the Panel.  The Board may then either, (a), dismiss the appeal or, (b), grant the appeal in part or in total.  In the latter case, the Board shall assume the Panelís disciplinary powers. The Boardís judgement, which shall be final, shall be communicated in writing to all relevant parties.  For example, if the decision of the Standards Committeel were overturned then the Standards Committee cannot contest that. The same finality also exists for any Party that appeals. Win or lose, the Appeal Board's ruling ends the Chess Scotland process.

To other Standards Committee documents


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