Get to grips with the revised Institute Code of Ethics

Apr 01, 2020
Karen Flannery and Níall Fitzgerald consider the critical points in the revised Chartered Accountants Ireland Code of Ethics, which came into effect on 1 March 2020.

The revised Chartered Accountants Ireland Code of Ethics took effect on 1 March 2020. The revised Code was necessary to increase alignment with the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) Code of Ethics, which underwent a significant restructure in recent years. While there are no changes to the fundamental principles, Chartered Accountants familiar with the previous Code of Ethics (effective September 2016 to 29 February 2020) will find the look and feel of the revised Code significantly different.

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While additional sections and emphasis were included, others were removed. This results in greater clarity and ease of navigation. Figure 1 provides an overview of the revised Chartered Accountants Ireland Code of Ethics.

Added emphasis on fundamental principles

The five fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics remain unchanged. These include integrity; objectivity; professional competence and due care; confidentiality, and; professional behaviour. The conceptual framework that describes the approach used to identify, evaluate and address threats to compliance with the fundamental principles also remains the same.

However, there is now a heightened emphasis on the fundamental principles and the use of the overarching conceptual framework underlying each section of the Code. Before, much of the narrative was contained in a single section of the Code.

Responding to non-compliance with laws and regulations

New sections were added concerning non-compliance with laws and regulations (NOCLAR) for professional accountants in practice (Section 360) and professional accountants in business (Section 260). These bring the NOCLAR provisions of the IESBA Code of Ethics into the Institute’s Code.

A vital feature of the NOCLAR provisions is the specific in-Code permission to breach the principle of confidentiality in the public interest. This permission has been explicit in the Institute’s Code for several years and so, the NOCLAR provisions can be seen as a change of detail rather than of substance. The new sections outline the required actions when NOCLAR is discovered and provide additional guidance in this area. Key points to note concerning the NOCLAR provisions are:
  • The first response to identified NOCLAR is to raise the matter, and seek to address it, at the appropriate level within the relevant organisation (internally);
  • Where NOCLAR is not dealt with appropriately internally, the professional accountant considers whether to report to an external authority in the public interest. The decision to report externally is (as it always has been) a complex one; and
  • Where a report is made in the public interest and good faith, there is no breach of the confidentiality requirements of the Code of Ethics. However, there may be legal implications for the professional accountant to consider.

Revised layout

The most obvious change is the revised layout of the Code of Ethics, which now mirrors the structure of the IESBA Code of Ethics with additional material for members of Chartered Accountants Ireland. A new paragraph numbering format was introduced and as a result, sections were restructured (e.g. what was “Part C” (Professional Accountants in Business) is now “Part 2” in the revised Code).The revised layout facilitates more natural referencing and distinguishes between the Code’s requirements (in bold text and denoted by the letter ‘R’) and application material or guidance (indicated by the letter ‘A’). Complexity has been reduced by simplifying sentences and language in parts. Also a new ‘Guide to the Code’, explaining how it works, has been included.

Other content changes

Table 1 highlights other notable developments in the revised Code of Ethics and suggests where you might focus your attention depending on whether you are a member in practice or business.

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Retained Institute ‘add-on’ material

Where existing Institute ‘add-on’ content created important additional requirements beyond the IESBA Code, these ‘add-on’ requirements are retained in the revised Code of Ethics. Such requirements include:
  • Specific requirements regarding communicating with the predecessor accountant (Section 320);
  • Particular obligations regarding transparency around the basis for fees and dealing with fee disputes (Section 330); and
  • Agencies and referrals (Section 331).

No new ‘add-on’ material was created.

Additional support for members

The Institute’s online Ethics Resource Centre is updated regularly with a range of supports and guidance for members. Additional information included in the old Code of Ethics, but removed in the revised Code and still considered useful, has been reproduced in a series of new Ethics Releases. The Ethics Releases are not a substitute for the requirements of the Code, but they do provide additional support for members in particular scenarios, including:

  • Code of Ethics and changes in professional appointments;
  • Code of Ethics and confidentiality;
  • Code of Ethics and marketing of professional services; and
  • Code of Ethics and corporate finance advice.

Future updates

The last substantial change to the Institute’s Code of Ethics was in 2016. While the Code does not change regularly, there is a significant body of work happening behind the scenes to ensure it remains appropriate, precise and effective in the context of the issues affecting the accounting profession. Members can, therefore, expect amendments from IESBA in the coming years; for example, considerations addressing the impact of technology-related ethics issues on the accounting profession.

For members who are insolvency practitioners, a new Insolvency Code of Ethics is imminent. The current Code of Ethics for Insolvency Practitioners, appended as Part D of the Institute’s old Code of Ethics for members, remains in effect until then. 

Actions speak louder than words

It was evident from the Ethics Research Report, published by the Institute in January 2019, that members hold their professional and business ethics in high regard. While the Code of Ethics does not change regularly, it is a hallmark that establishes a minimum standard which is signed up to and shared by all members of the profession.
It is useful to be familiar with its requirements and to remember that it is individual member actions that express commitment to the Code of Ethics in addition to a member’s personal ethics. The revised Code is available via the Institute’s Ethics Resource Centre.
 
Níall Fitzgerald FCA is Head of Ethics and Governance at Chartered Accountants Ireland. 

Karen Flannery FCA is Head of Professional Standards Projects at Chartered Accountants Ireland.