The purpose of this paper is to examine the operation of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland's (ICAI) complaint process from the complainant's perspective. The findings are interpreted drawing on key elements of Parker's private interest model of professional accounting ethics, particularly the private interest roles of professional authority and professional insulation.
The primary evidence used is drawn from numerous sources. These include: extensive “private” documentation comprising original correspondence between the complainant in the case examined (or his advisors) and various representatives of the ICAI spanning a five‐year period; detailed supporting documentation included with this correspondence; Independent Experts' Reports on the complaints submitted; and in‐depth interviews with the complainant prior to, during, and post the examination of the documentary evidence.
The paper reveals how high levels of professional authority and professional insulation worked in tandem to prevent complaints entering the complaint process and deny the complainant reasons for decisions taken. It demonstrates how a key structural barrier in the complaint process, the screening role of the professional accounting body's secretary, created a complainant impression of a process concerned primarily with protecting members' interests. Subsequent to complaint process changes, an erosion of professional insulation is unveiled. However, this proves fleeting and, in response to persistent complainant challenges to heightened demonstrations of professional authority, the degree of professional insulation intensifies further.
The paper focuses on a specific case where the complainant was dissatisfied with the ICAI's procedures. It reveals the extent to which complainants using professional body complaints procedures may, often by virtue of the structures in place, feel that profession protection motives are overriding purported concerns for society protection.
The paper extends and advances the literature examining professional accounting body disciplinary and complaint procedures. Prior research investigating the operation of these procedures has neglected to examine complaint processes in depth to inform their evaluations, particularly from the perspective of potential users of these processes.
O'Dwyer, B. and Canning, M. (2008), "On professional accounting body complaints procedures: Confronting professional authority and professional insulation within the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI)", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 21 No. 5, pp. 645-670. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570810872950
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