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Lax disciplinary procedures leave institutions open to prosecution

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PROFESSIONAL engineering bodies including the Institution of Civil Engineers could face legal action if they fail to tighten up disciplinary procedures, a leading engineer and barrister warned this week.

Kings College Nash professor of engineering law John Uff said that members of the public could prosecute them if they failed to discipline incompetent or negilent engineers.

Uff is a leading construction arbitrator who played a leading role in the investigation into train protection warning sytems and the Southall rail crash.

The ICE later dismissed his claims. 'We are covered by our rules of professional conduct, ' said chief executive Amar Bhogal.

'But we are incumbent on people to bring breaches of these rules to our attention.'

Uff was speaking at the Royal Academy of Engineering Lloyd's Register Lecture 'Engineering ethics: do engineers owe duties to the public?' He criticised engineering institutions for failing to produce a co-ordinated set of disciplinary procedures.

'Institutions have a real interest in pursuing disciplinary measures, ' said Uff. 'But in doing so, the most important condition is that they act together, a feat which is almost without precedent.'

He added: 'Institutions do not enjoy any degree of immunity or legal protection, ' said Uff. 'An institution might be vulnerable to action in negligence for failure to take steps to prevent an incompetent engineer from being held out as qualified.'

Uff compared engineering to the medical profession, where the type of conduct which would result in a practitioner being struck off, is largely established through precedent.

'There is no such body of precedent in the UK engineering profession, ' said Uff, 'partly through lack of any reported disciplinary proceedings and partly because there are few areas in engineering where professional registration is a requirement of practice'.

INFOPLUS www. raeng. org. uk

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