ETHICS & STANDARDS COMPLAINTS MANAGEMENT
The Council of the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG) receives a number of complaints each year from AIG members and the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) alleging breaches of the AIG’s Code of Ethics, the JORC Code and the VALMIN code (collectively named “the codes“). One of the main reasons AIG was established in the early 1980s was to provide a strong code of ethics that would bind professional geoscientist members and minimise the unethical behaviour that was evident in the late 1970s mineral exploration boom.
After a complaint is received, AIG will use the system described below to resolve complaints. If sustained, a complaint could lead to the imposition of one or more in a range of penalties on a member found to have breached one of the codes. The revised complaints resolution process, now incorporating a Complaints Committee in addition to the existing Ethics and Standards Committee, offers members procedural fairness when required to respond to complaint allegations. Procedural fairness includes:
- an absence of bias;
- an inquiry into matters in dispute;
- the opportunity to be heard; and
- evidence to support the decision
There is also an appeal mechanism involving members of Council who had no previous role in hearing the complaint.
The process is largely confidential, with all efforts made to protect the identity of both complainants and respondents. However, published apologies may be considered in some circumstances and penalties for repeat offences or major offences against the codes can include publication of names of offenders.
Overview of the Process
The process is a generic one most suited to breaches of the JORC and VALMIN codes (Clause 19 of AIG’s Code of Ethics), and more serious complaints under other clauses of the Code of Ethics. Less serious complaints under the Code of Ethics may be dealt with in a more informal process involving mediation. The process will aim to protect respondents from vexatious, frivolous and malicious complaints.
The process involves three main groups within AIG – the Complaints Committee, the Ethics and Standards Committee, and the Council. The Complaints Committee has an investigative role, the Ethics and Standards Committee makes findings and decisions in relation to the offence and penalties, and the Council hears appeals against decisions. The Ethics and Standards Committee or the Council will decide in consultation with the respondent and complainant the most suitable form of proceedings.
Penalties range from cautions and reprimands for minor offences, through to demotion to a lower membership grade, suspension of membership, naming of members found guilty in an AIG publication, and expulsion from membership in more serious cases. An apology, published, or written or verbal may form part of the penalty.
There will be no right appeal by the complainant to a decision made.
Constituted under Clause 55 of the Articles of AIG, the Complaints Committee is a permanent committee appointed by the AIG Council. Committee members have a collective experience covering reporting of exploration results, valuation of mineral properties, estimates of resources and ore reserves, and broad professional geoscience practice. Only one or two members are required to investigate a particular complaint.
The Complaints Committee has an investigative role and makes recommendations to the Ethics and Standards Committee concerning whether in its opinion a breach of the codes has occurred and may also recommend an appropriate penalty.
Ethics and Standards Committee
Constituted under Clause 55 of the Articles of AIG, the Ethics and Standards Committee is a permanent committee appointed by the AIG Council. Membership of the Ethics and Standards Committee would be drawn from up to five senior members of the AIG, with up to three members being required to sit on a particular complaint.
This committee has a decision-making role involving:
- reviewing the information and recommendations in the complaint file provided by the Complaints Committee after its investigation;
- reviewing findings made on the evidence, including the degree of negligence versus intent to breach one or more of the codes, and appropriate penalty taking into account previous professional history of respondent and early admissions of culpability, or
- dismissal of the complaint, if appropriate.
The complaints process is illustrated in Figure 1 and is summarized below. Any member of the Complaints Committee, Ethics and Standards Committee, or Council who has an interest or potential interest in the complaint must declare it and that member will not participate further in the complaint process.
Figure 1: AIG Complaints Process
Complaints can be made at any time, but the time elapsed between the alleged breach and the complaint may be an issue in determining if it is to be acted upon.
Although time limits are imposed for actions involved in the process, these may be varied with the agreement of the respondent and the relevant AIG appeals process committee. Minor delays in meeting time limits for actions by either party will neither invalidate the process nor give grounds for appeal.
1. Initial review by Ethics and Standards Committee
The Ethics and Standards Committee receives the complaint and decides whether it should be dismissed because of lack of documentation, or is of such a minor nature that a warning letter, with a right of reply, to the relevant member would be sufficient, or if the complaint involves more serious allegations, refer it to the Complaints Committee for further investigation.
The Ethics and Standards Committee may initiate a complaint of its own motion.
2. Investigation by Complaints Committee
The Complaints Committee will:
- Investigate the complaint received;
- notify the respondent in writing that an allegation of breach has been made and seek a response;
- if required, seek additional information from the complainant(s), respondent member, and other persons; and,
- report to the Ethics and Standards Committee on the results of its investigation.
A member is given 21 days to respond to an allegation, after which the Complaints Committee has 14 days to make a report, including recommendations, to the Ethics and Standards Committee.
3. Referrall to Ethics and Standards Committee
The Complaints Committee will pass on its recommendation and all evidence (the “complaint file”) to the Ethics and Standards Committee. The Ethics and Standards Committee should then inform the respondent of its findings and proposed penalty within 21 days and be offered the right to respond to the Committee orally or in writing. Legal representation will not be permitted at a hearing requested by a respondent. The hearing will not be bound by the rules of evidence or by legal technicalities.
The Ethics and Standards Committee will then make its final decision and except where the proposed penalty is expulsion, the member will be informed of the decision, including penalty, and appeal rights. Where the penalty is expulsion, the Ethics and Standards Committee refers its recommendation to Council.
4. Appeals to Council
An appeal against a decision by the Ethics and Standards Committee must be made within 14 days of the respondent being advised of the final penalty, and at least 14 days notice will be given of the date of the Council meeting at which the appeal will be heard. The respondent can make either a written or verbal appeal to Council. If a hearing is requested by a respondent it will be chaired by an independent convenor but will not be bound by the rules of evidence or by legal technicalities.
Legal representation will only be permitted for respondents facing expulsion from AIG.
A respondent could appeal on any aspect of the process, the decision and the penalty. For a penalty not involving expulsion, or if the respondent facing expulsion waived his/her rights to appeal to Council, the Ethics and Standards Committee decision would, if ratified by Council, be final.
Normally, Council will make its decision within seven days of a written or verbal appeal being made.
Council members who served as members of the Complaints Committee and Ethics and Standards Committee, and any Council members with a conflict of interest in relation to the matter must absent themselves from the Council meeting when the appeal is considered.
For an appeal involving expulsion from membership, the votes of at least two thirds of Council members eligible to vote is required to confirm expulsion.
AIG has a range of penalties that can be applied to members who breach the codes. The penalties imposed will be determined according to the following guidelines:
the seriousness of the offence which reflects the question “to what extent the offence was unbecoming of a member and/or prejudicial to the interest of the AIG?”;
whether the offence was negligent or wilful (degree of intent involved);
early admissions of culpability and offers to apologize;
history of previous offences.
On initial review of the complaint, the Ethics and Standards Committee may decide that the offence is very minor and a warning letter (with a right to respond) to the respondent would be sufficient. Where the full Complaint process is invoked, the Ethics and Standards Committee would ask for comment on the penalty from the member found guilty of an offence.
For minor offences, penalties would include cautions, reprimands, and mandatory attendance of a JORC or VALMIN seminar. Penalties for more serious offences and repeated minor offences could involve demotion to a lower membership grade, suspension of membership, and naming of members found guilty in an AIG publication. Expulsion from membership would be reserved for very serious or repeat offences. An apology, published, or written or verbal may form part of any penalty.
The Ethics and Standards Committee has wide discretion to decide on one or penalties fitting the circumstances of each offence.
Version: August 2014