Professional ethics and codes of conduct
Professional ethics are principles that govern the behaviour of a person or group in a business environment. Like values, professional ethics provide rules on how a person should act towards other people and institutions in such an environment.
Unlike values, professional ethics are often codified as a set of rules, which a particular group of people use.
This means that all those in a particular group will use the same professional ethics, even though their values may be unique to each person.
The Code is an example of a codified set of professional ethics for those who choose to enter the immigration advice profession.
Ethical principles underpin all professional codes of conduct. Ethical principles may differ depending on the profession; for example, professional ethics that relate to medical practitioners will differ from those that relate to lawyers or real estate agents.
However, there are some universal ethical principles that apply across all professions, including:
- respect for others
- adherence to the law
- doing good and avoiding harm to others
Codes of conduct
Professional codes of conduct draw on these professional ethical principles as the basis for prescribing required standards of behaviour for members of a profession. They also seek to set out the expectations that the profession and society have of its members.
The intention of codes of conduct is to provide guidelines for the minimum standard of appropriate behaviour in a professional context. Codes of conduct sit alongside the general law of the land and the personal values of members of the profession.
The primary value of a professional code of conduct is not as a checklist for disciplining non-conforming members, although breaches of a code of conduct usually do carry a professional disciplinary consequence.
Rather, its primary value is to act as a prompt sheet for the promotion of ethical decision-making by members of that profession.
Professional codes of conduct provide benefits to:
- the public, as they build confidence in the profession’s trustworthiness
- clients, as they provide greater transparency and certainty about how their affairs will be handled
- members of the profession, as they provide a supporting framework for resisting pressure to act inappropriately, and for making acceptable decisions in what may be ‘grey areas’
- the profession as a whole, as they provide a common understanding of acceptable practice which builds collegiality and allows for fairer disciplinary procedures
- others dealing with the profession, as the profession will be seen as more reliable and easier to deal with.
Other contributors to professional ethics
When an adviser agrees to assist a client, they agree to take on a level of responsibility for that person and their immigration matter. The client becomes dependent on the adviser in relation to that assistance. This is a fiduciary relationship between the fiduciary (the adviser) and a principal (the client). Even without a Code this fiduciary relationship means the adviser has certain obligations to their client.
When an adviser enters into a contract (or written agreement) with a client this creates legally binding obligations to perform the terms of the contract in a particular way. This includes a duty to act with diligence, due care and skill, and also implies obligations such as confidentiality and honesty, even if they are not specifically set out in the contract.
Many ethical issues are likely to stem from advisers’ relationships with clients. Most of these can be overcome by having clear terms in a written agreement about how certain matters will be dealt with, such as the sharing of confidential information, the use of interpreters, refunds and invoicing. More information on written agreements can be found in the Code of Conduct Toolkit.
As well as New Zealand immigration legislation, advisers should also be aware of other relevant laws that seek to regulate how service providers must behave. In New Zealand this could include the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993. Advisers operating outside of New Zealand should make sure that they are familiar with any equivalent legislation that governs the behaviour of service providers there.