09 May Complaints against Registered Professional Engineers and Investigation Decisions
POLICY ID 2.1 (5A)
Effective: 2 August 2018
1.1 The Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland (“Board”) is responsible for protecting the public, maintaining confidence in the profession and upholding professional standards of registered professional engineers in Queensland (RPEQs). The Board’s professional discipline function, of which the complaints process is a key part, is critical to maintaining those standards, and consequently, public safety and public confidence in engineering services.
1.2 This Policy:
(a) sets out the framework by which the Board will deal with complaints made against RPEQs pursuant to section 37 of the Professional Engineers Act 2002 (Qld) (“Act”); and
(b) provides guidance to the Board, RPEQs and the public as to how the Board will receive, assess and deal with complaints and make decisions in respect of complaints, in particular a decision to investigate, or not to investigate, a complaint.
2.1 The Act empowers the Board to investigate complaints regarding the conduct of RPEQs and to take disciplinary action where appropriate.
2.2 Section 37 of the Act permits a person, who is aggrieved by the conduct of a RPEQ in carrying out professional engineering services, to make a complaint to the Board.
2.3 Sections 37 to 45 of the Act specify how a complaint is to be made and what action the Board can take in dealing with a complaint, including when the Board can make a decision to investigate.
3.1 This Policy applies to
(a) all complaints made to the Board relating to the conduct of a RPEQ in carrying out a professional engineering service. It guides all aspects of the complaints process including:
(i) complaints procedures;
(ii) validity of complaints;
(iii) seeking submissions from respondent RPEQs;
(iv) grounds for rejecting complaints; and
(b) decisions to investigate (section 41 of the Act).
3.2 Complaints made about unregistered persons are not considered ‘complaints’ for the purpose of section 37(1) of the Act, and are outside the scope of this Policy. They will, however, serve to bring to the Board’s attention, information which may give rise to a reasonable suspicion of the commission of an offence against the Act.
3.3 The Board acts for the broader community (rather than for individuals). The Board is not a forum for settling contractual disputes and has no power to order restitution.
3.4 The Board does not have the power to intervene in respect of complaints regarding fee disputes, requests for compensation or staff grievances, and this Policy does not cover those types of complaints.
4. Managing a complaint
4.1 Complaints will be reviewed in a professional and timely manner.
4.2 Each complaint will be managed with reference to the following principles:
(a) procedural fairness will be afforded as required throughout the complaint process;
(b) decisions about complaints will be made on a case-by-case basis and with reference to all relevant information provided to the Board to ensure the appropriate decision is reached;
(c) the complaint process will be unbiased, objective and impartial;
(d) people involved in the complaints process have the right to be supported by third parties, when appropriate; and
(e) processes for managing complaints will, where appropriate, comply with the relevant Australian Standard for the handling of complaints as well as relevant Queensland government guidelines and directives.
4.3 Complaints with a higher risk profile (for example, because they bring attention to a risk to the public), may be expedited or dealt with outside the framework provided for in this Policy.
5.1 The statutory framework in respect of a decision to investigate an offence is illustrated below:
Receiving a Complaint
6.1 Any person aggrieved by the conduct of a RPEQ in carrying out a professional engineering service may submit a complaint to the Board using the Form 6 – Complaint Form.
6.2 The Board will also consider information otherwise received (i.e. in the absence of a complaint) where that information may give rise to a reasonable belief on the part of the Board that a RPEQ’s conduct may provide a ground for disciplining the RPEQ. Information provided with a complaint that is not a valid complaint may constitute information to be considered by the Board in this manner.
6.3 The Registrar (or by delegation, the Principal or Senior Legal Officer for the Board) will review the complaint, and if necessary, contact the complainant to request further information.
6.4 The Registrar may also, where he or she considers that there is insufficient information to inform an investigation decision, seek an opinion from an appropriately qualified RPEQ to assist the Board to reach a decision.
Requesting a Submission
6.5 The Registrar will generally issue a notice to the respondent RPEQ inviting a submission in response to the complaint and will, in so doing, either provide the RPEQ with a copy of the complaint and its supporting documents, or a summary of it.
6.6 The Board may make a decision without seeking a submission from the respondent RPEQ where:
(a) the Board reasonably considers that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, trivial, misconceived or lacking in substance pursuant to section 39 of the Act; or
(b) the position of the RPEQ is already clear from the material provided to the Board.
6.7 The Board will consider the complaint, the RPEQ’s submission and any expert opinion (if any) and decide to:
(a) reject the complaint pursuant to section 39 of the Act; or
(b) conduct an investigation into the conduct complained of; or
(c) decide not to investigate the complaint or take any further action.
Grounds for Rejecting Complaint
6.8 The Board may reject the complaint if it reasonably considers that the complaint is:
(a) frivolous – if it is manifestly futile or does have any serious purpose or value; or
(b) trivial – if it is of little value or importance; or
(c) vexatious – if it causes or tends to cause annoyance, frustration or worry; if it is an action which is brought without sufficient grounds; if it is an action which is brought for a collateral purpose; or, finally, if, irrespective of the motive of the complainant, it is so obviously untenable or manifestly groundless to be utterly hopeless; or
(d) misconceived – if it is clear that the complainant has failed to understand something correctly.
6.9 The Board may decide to investigate the conduct of a RPEQ which is the subject of complaint or the conduct of a RPEQ where no complaint exists, but the board is of a reasonable belief that conduct of a RPEQ may provide grounds for disciplining that person.
6.10 The only alternative to a decision to investigate is a decision not to investigate.
6.11 The Board’s power to investigate is discretionary.
6.12 The factors relevant to the exercise of the discretion are:
(a) whether the Board reasonably believes that the conduct in question may give rise to a disciplinary ground;
(b) the age of the conduct the subject of the complaint or information;
(c) the grounds for disciplining a RPEQ;
(d) the objects of the Act (with reference to the circumstances of the specific complaint or information provided to the Board);
(e) whether the complaint is based on an allegation (or allegations) that has already been appropriately and relevantly dealt with by the Board or another entity; and
(f) any other matter brought to the attention of the Board that may bear relevance to the decision.
6.13 Where the Board decides to conduct an investigation, it must notify the RPEQ of the decision as soon as practicable after that decision is made, in accordance with section 44 of the Act.
7. Complaints about Historic Conduct
7.1 The Act imposes no time limit for making a complaint.
7.2 While each complaint will be considered on its merits, the Board is unlikely to exercise its discretion under the Act to conduct an investigation of conduct of a RPEQ where that conduct occurred more than 5 years prior to the making of the complaint.
7.3 The Board would ordinarily expect an aggrieved person to become aware of conduct of a RPEQ that could give rise to a disciplinary ground within twelve (12) months of its occurrence and to make a complaint to the Board within at least two (2) years.
7.4 The Board’s ability to fully and fairly investigate complaints is compromised the longer the aggrieved person delays in making a complaint given the effluxion of time negatively effects the availability of documentary records and the location of witnesses and causes the fading of people’s memories (as examples).
7.5 A lengthy delay in the making of a complaint that cannot be explained may also impugn the credit of the aggrieved person.
7.6 The Board acknowledges that other matters, such as the ascertainment of latent defects in design, may plausibly explain delay.
7.7 In considering whether to exercise its discretion to investigate complaints regarding conduct which is more than 5 years old, the Board will have regard to:
(a) when the conduct the subject of complaint first came to the knowledge of the complainant;
(b) the explanation for the delay in making the complaint;
(c) whether, and the extent to which, the parties might be prejudiced by the effluxion of time. This includes, but is not limited to, consideration of the availability of evidence and witnesses, and the likelihood of any denial of procedural fairness; and
(d) utility in investigating the conduct with reference to the objects of the Act.
8.1 Related legislation:
Professional Engineers Act 2002 (QLD)
Part 3 – Complaints and Investigations
Part 4 – Reports and Board’s Decisions about Investigations
Section 37(3) of the PE Act:
The Chairperson must keep available for inspection, at the Board’s office for members of the public, information about:
(a) the type of conduct the Board considers may give rise to a complaint;and
(b) how a person may make a complaint.
8.2 Gazetted Forms:
- Form 6 –Complaint Form
8.3 Other Relevant Information:
- Complaint Form Information Sheet
- Complaints Checklist