Date posted: 14/09/2022 8 min read

How disciplinary bodies work

Accountants have ethical and professional standards, but when a dispute arises independent disciplinary bodies are called upon to make decisions. What are these bodies and how do they operate?

In Brief

  • Kate Dixon and Rebecca Stickney – leaders of the CA ANZ professional conduct teams in Australia and New Zealand, respectively – are responsible for receiving complaints made against a member and investigating them on behalf of the Professional Conduct Committee.
  • Both New Zealand and Australia have three distinct independent bodies to carry out the disciplinary procedures.
  • All of the independent disciplinary panels, which each number between four and 17 people, are comprised of a blend of senior CA ANZ members, who are not staff, and a selection of lay members. Panel members are chosen for their integrity, experience and ability.

By Alexandra Johnson

While it is well known that disciplinary action may be imposed upon members who transgress from their ethical and technical obligations under the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) By-Laws and New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA) Rules, the structure and functions of the independent disciplinary bodies which examine cases and make these crucial decisions are less understood.

Kate Dixon and Rebecca Stickney – leaders of the CA ANZ professional conduct teams in Australia and New Zealand, respectively – are responsible for receiving complaints made against a member and investigating them on behalf of the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC). The result of the investigation is then provided to the PCC to decide on next steps, including the complaint outcome.

Three distinct bodies

Both New Zealand and Australia have three distinct independent bodies to carry out the disciplinary procedures. The New Zealand bodies are established under the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants Act 1996 and the NZICA Rules, and the Australian bodies under the CA ANZ By-Laws. In addition, both the By-Laws and Rules provide for the appointment of a reviewer of complaints.

“The PCC is the key investigative panel,” says Dixon. “It receives all complaints and establishes whether cases will be finalised by it, or, in more serious matters, referred to the Disciplinary Tribunal (DT).

“And following on from that is the Appeals Tribunal, or as it is called in New Zealand, the Appeals Council.”

The role of the DT is to hear and determine complaints made to it by the PCC, including imposing sanctions where it considers it appropriate to do so. Decisions of the DT can be appealed by the member or the PCC to the Appeals Tribunal/Council.

The member or complainant may also request a review of most decisions of the PCC if they wish to do so, on payment of the specified application fee. The reviewer is an independent legal practitioner.

Who’s on the panels

All of the independent disciplinary panels, which each number between four and 17 people, are comprised of a blend of senior CA ANZ members, who are not staff, and a selection of lay members.

The CA ANZ members represent all sectors of practice, including public practice (from all tiers of the profession), corporate, audit, insolvency and tax specialists. The lay members are drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds, including law, academia, the public sector and business.

“We aim for our appointments to be reflective of the diversity of our membership,” says Dixon. “The lay members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, to bring their unique independent perspective. CA ANZ members on the panel are also required to be in touch with the profession and active within it.”

Panel members are chosen for their integrity, experience and ability, adds Stickney. “People who are respected within their respective profession and capable of making decisions in the interests of both the profession and the public. They are chosen to uphold integrity and provide public confidence,” she says, adding it is a significant commitment to be appointed to one of these panels.

“Panel members are chosen to uphold integrity and provide public confidence.”
Rebecca Stickney, New Zealand conduct leader, CA ANZ

“Panel members take part in a huge scope of work. Across both New Zealand and Australia, the PCC is presented with between three and four hundred cases per year. There’s a portion of those that don’t proceed to full investigation, but the panels see a vast range of cases, from simple issues through to particularly complex and technical cases.”

Often, the panel members will receive significant volumes of evidence and documents to study before a case.

“And of course, they have the responsibility to sit and judge their peers,” says Stickney. “They must at times make decisions that have a significant impact on someone’s life and livelihood. They have to ask hard questions and often we are dealing with sensitive topics or people who are perhaps at the lowest ebb of their professional or personal life.

“And that’s quite a significant personal responsibility to take on, which requires a particular talent and skill set,” she says.

Members giving back

Panel members also take great pride in their role, often seeing it as a way to give back to the membership body.

Simon Wallace-Smith FCA, the current chair of the CA ANZ Disciplinary Tribunal, has been involved with the disciplinary body for about a decade and says the role “has enabled me to contribute back to CA ANZ, ensuring our organisation maintains the highest professional standards that the members and the public expect.”

Members of the disciplinary panels are generally appointed for a three-year term, with the option for re-appointment. Lyndal Kimpton FCA, a current PCC panel member, has been involved with CA ANZ in a number of roles since achieving her CA designation in 2007. “I have found my time with the PCC to be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience,” she says.

“I pride myself on being a chartered accountant and believe that my involvement on the PCC has enabled me to assist with maintaining the quality of the designation as well as benefiting fellow members that may need some assistance.”

A big investment

While panel members are remunerated, they lead busy professional lives. “It does require a significant investment of time, including at times, multi-day hearings,” says Stickney.

She is eager to stress that despite the seriousness of many of the cases, members who are brought before the panels can use it as a juncture in their careers, as an opportunity for change.

“We find that members who approach the process with insight and a learning mindset often cope with the experience better,” she says. “Everyone is capable of making errors, or wrong decisions, whether it’s a technical issue or a significant breach of integrity or ethics, people can come back from that, and make changes to regain their standing and move on with their lives and careers.”

Dixon adds: “The PCC puts a lot of effort into trying to work through problems with members where it can and while it does have a disciplinary role to play, it does try to assist members to move forward wherever possible.”

“The Professional Conduct Committee does try to assist members to move forward wherever possible.”
Kate Dixon, Australian conduct and discipline manager, CA ANZ

The charters of the CA ANZ and NZICA disciplinary bodies can be found in CA ANZ’s Governance Manual, which is available on CA ANZ’s website.

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Need help?

The CA Advisory Group provides free, confidential support for chartered accountants facing ethical dilemmas or weighing career decisions. Call 1300 137 322 (Australia) or 0800 4 69422 (New Zealand), or go to CA Advisory Group website.

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