Complaint Hearings - August 2019

This article picks up from a series of articles about the disciplinary process in the Electricity Act and focuses on what happens at a disciplinary hearing. Previous articles have covered investigations of complaints, making complaints and avoiding them.

Conducting disciplinary hearings is one of the main functions of the Board. The Board has to schedule a hearing when an Investigator reports that a complaint should be heard by the Board. The investigator decides what the charges will be and the disciplinary offences an electrical worker can be charged with are listed in section 143 of the Electricity Act. The burden of proof at a hearing is on the Investigator, meaning that they have to prove the charges, but only to the standard of the balance of probabilities which is the civil standard of proof.

Prior to a hearing, the electrical worker and the Board are provided with all of the evidence relating to the case. The Presiding Member will normally call a prehearing telephone conference with the electrical worker and the Investigator to discuss how the hearing will proceed. Generally, there are two options; a full hearing where witnesses are called and evidence is heard, or the submission of an agreed statement of facts. This is where the electrical worker and the investigator agree on the facts that the Board should consider. Sometimes a hybrid of the two options is used. A hearing based on an agreed statement of facts is far more efficient as witnesses do not have to be called and this is taken into account when the Board considers penalty and costs if a charge is upheld.

Hearings are run in a similar fashion to a court hearing. The Investigator, who is represented by a lawyer, presents their evidence and submissions. The electrical worker and the Board can question the Investigator’s witnesses. The electrical worker is then given the opportunity to present their evidence and submissions. An electrical worker can be represented at a hearing by a lawyer or by an industry representative and they can have a support person with them.

Once the Board has heard all of the evidence, it deliberates in private and makes a decision. The decision is normally delivered orally on the day of the hearing, but all Board decisions must also be presented in writing. Written decisions are provided once the hearing is complete and they include a summary of the evidence and the reasons why the Board reached its decision. If the Board upholds any of the charges it then has to consider the appropriate penalty, whether costs should be imposed, and whether any publication should be undertaken. 

The next article in this series will focus on the Board’s penalty, costs and publication options and considerations.