12 Oct The distinction between ‘discipline’ and ‘compliance’ matters in the Professional Engineers Act 2002
The Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland has a regulatory function which encompasses two separate legal avenues for punishing bad behaviour and deterring individuals from doing things that they should not when practising professional engineering in Queensland. Those two avenues are often described as ‘discipline’ and ‘compliance’. The purpose of this brief paper is to explain the meaning of each term.
The PE Act has a mechanism for taking action against RPEQs that do any of the following ‘disciplinary grounds’:
- Behave in a way that constitutes unsatisfactory professional conduct.
- Failed to comply with the provisions of the PE Act.
- Are convicted of an offence against an act of the state, the Commonwealth or another state relating to the practice of engineering.
- Contravened an undertaking entered into by the RPEQ with the Board.
- Contravened a condition of the RPEQ’s registration.
It should be noted that these disciplinary grounds only apply to RPEQs. The grounds do not constitute criminal offences. If an engineer has done any of the things listed above then the Board can take the following ‘disciplinary action’;
- Start a disciplinary proceeding in QCAT, usually with a view to obtaining an order of the Tribunal that the RPEQ’s registration be suspended or cancelled or that they be disqualified from practicing as a RPEQ.
- The Board can enter an undertaking with the RPEQ about a matter relating to their carrying out professional engineering services.
- The Board can formally caution or reprimand the RPEQ and details of the caution or reprimand can be recorded on the register of RPEQs.
- The Board can impose a condition on the RPEQ’s registration.
The disciplinary grounds and disciplinary actions only relate to RPEQs.
The PE Act contains a number of sections that create criminal offences. If a person commits a criminal offence against the PE Act then the Board can charge them with the criminal offence and prosecute them through the Magistrate’s Court
with the intention of obtaining a conviction for the offence. Upon conviction the Board would usually seek a fine that is intended to operate as a penalty for the offender and to deter the offender and the rest of the community from committing offences against the PE Act. That is the prosecution is intended to promote ‘compliance’ with the PE Act. A person committing offences against the PE
Act has not complied with the prohibitions upon certain behaviour. The most serious offences are for individuals who are not RPEQs but carry out unsupervised professional engineering services or who claim to be RPEQs when they are not. Those offences carry maximum penalties of about $130,000.
In summary, disciplinary matters relate to RPEQ’s conduct in the carrying out of professional engineering. Compliance matters involve the prosecution of individuals for criminal offences against the PE Act.