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Case Study 9

ROC Case Study - 09

These case studies are examples to help you to apply the Rules of Conduct in situations that may arise in your professional practice.

When making ethical professional decisions, you need to:

  • consider the facts
  • identify the relevant RICS standards in the Rules of Conduct and other guidance
  • use your professional judgement, which may require you to balance different interests and principles.

What matters is that you can show that you have done your best to follow the professional standards set by RICS.

Read the case study below

Scenario 9

In the course of working for a client, I’ve found evidence they are breaking the law by dumping hazardous waste instead of disposing of it properly. What should I do?

Summary

  • Consider whether the risk of serious harm outweighs your duty of client confidentiality.
  • Check whether you have any legal obligations to disclose.
  • Seek advice if you can do so safely.
  • Document your decision making.
  • Consider whether to stop acting for the client.

Rules and behaviours

Rules 1 and 5, and behaviours 1.9 and 5.1 are relevant here.

Whistleblowing on illegal activities involves a conflict between Rule 1, specifically behaviour 1.9 (the professional obligation not to disclose confidential client information) and Rule 5 requiring you to act in the public interest and to act to prevent harm.

The need for clients to be able to entrust confidential information to their professional advisers is important, to give them the confidence to seek advice even if they have not acted properly in the past. The duty of confidentiality is not therefore one that should be breached without careful consideration. However, where maintaining confidentiality would result in significant harm to the public, or seriously damage public confidence in the profession, your duties to the public interest and to prevent harm may outweigh your duty to your client, especially where the harmful behaviour is continuing. In that circumstance the ethical thing to do may be to report concerns to a relevant law enforcement or environmental protection body.

There may also be situations in some jurisdictions where you are required to report certain types of concerns – for example, in the UK suspicions of money laundering must be reported.

Commentary

Deciding whether to raise concerns requires professional judgement and can sometimes involve unpleasant consequences for a professional, despite the protections that some jurisdictions have in place. You may want to discuss your decision with others but should think carefully about how you do this. Discussing your concerns with the client could lead to the destruction of evidence before authorities can investigate and – in relation to money laundering concerns – ‘tipping off’ a client about suspicions is illegal in the UK. You could talk to a senior colleague who is not connected to the client or contract. If your firm has a legal or compliance department you may be able to seek advice from them, or you can seek your own legal advice. Alternatively, regulators or support organisations for whistleblowers may be able to provide advice.

You should carefully document your decision about whether to inform authorities, in case your decision is challenged later. If you decide that it is not appropriate to make a disclosure, you should consider raising your concerns with your client. This is particularly important where you think doing so will stop the illegal behaviour, for example if senior management may not be aware of it. You should also consider whether you should stop acting for the client – in most cases where the client is continuing to act illegally you should not continue to act for them. If you do continue to act for a client who is acting illegally you must be able to explain why this is necessary and does not breach the Rules of Conduct.