Conflict of interest is a term which is often used and isn’t always well understood.
“A conflict of interest is a situation in which a person has multiple interests, financial or otherwise, and discharging one interest may involve working against another of the interests’” quotes Michael Wolff, Partner at Morrison Kent.
His firm, Morrison Kent Lawyers, is a sponsor of both the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors (NZIBS) and the NZIBS conference.
The term ‘conflict of interest’ is a loaded term and extremely fact dependent, meaning general rules will not cover every situation.
Although there are some points for surveyors to keep in mind when assessing potential conflict:
- Do you have a financial interest in the outcome (other than fees)?
- Do you hold confidential information which affects your ability to provide the advice without disclosing the information?
- What would a reasonable person think about the situation/conflict?
- Is there something about the situation which makes you uncomfortable?
“The nature of the engagement and the relationship between the parties, will play a large part in establishing whether it is an actual or perceived conflict,” Mr Wolff says.
Further to this, when providing expert evidence, the issue is complicated by the High Court Rules.
“A professional who’s giving expert evidence has an overarching duty to the court, not the client,” Mr Wolff says.
“Just because one person’s been engaged by one side of the dispute doesn’t mean they’re conflicted from giving advice to the other side of the dispute.”
As an expert assisting the Court has an overarching duty to be impartial, it means acting for one side does not prevent the individual providing advice to the other side.
However, in those circumstances privileged information cannot be disclosed and by holding privileged information the expert may be conflicted.
As with all questions of conflict, there is no simple answer.
“You have to take each case on its merits and just be alert to potential conflicts.”
As for why Morrison Kent is sponsoring NZIBS? The answer is easy.
“We want to support the Institute and the work that they’re doing.”