Discussion paper on Ethics Principles

In November 2015, as part of the launch of the ICAS “The Power of One” business ethics initiative, ICAS issued a discussion paper “The Five Fundamental Ethics Principles: Time for Evaluation?”.

In response to the feedback to this consultation, ICAS has decided to adopt ‘moral courage’ as an ‘enabler’ – as an underpinning qualitative characteristic required of a professional accountant.

Effective 1 November 2017, the need for Chartered Accountants to have “courage to act morally” is highlighted (in italics) in Section 100.5 of the ICAS Code of Ethics.

ICAS Code of Ethics – Section 100.5

Moral courage

In order to ensure compliance with the fundamental principles, an underpinning qualitative characteristic required of the professional accountant is the ‘courage’ to act morally. ‘Courage’ for the professional accountant is the need to act in accordance with the fundamental principles, especially in situations where there is a risk of suffering adverse personal consequences.

There is a need for the professional accountant to confront ethical dilemmas with courage.  When facing an ethical dilemma, the professional accountant needs to have the courage to acknowledge the dilemma, to make a reasoned judgement as to the ethical action required to resolve the dilemma, and then to act accordingly.

A professional accountant shall comply with the following fundamental principles.

  1. Integrity: To be straightforward and honest in all professional and business relationships.
  2. Objectivity: To not allow bias, conflict of interest or undue influence of others to override professional or business judgements.
  3. Professional Competence and Due Care: To maintain professional knowledge and skill at the level required to ensure that a client or employer receives competent professional service based on current developments in practice, legislation and techniques and act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standards.
  4. Confidentiality: To respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and, therefore, not disclose any such information to third parties without proper and specific authority, unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose, nor use the information for the personal advantage of the professional accountant or third parties.
  5. Professional Behaviour: To comply with relevant laws and regulations and avoid any conduct that discredits the profession."

"The Five Fundamental Ethics Principals: Time for Evaluation?"

As part of its remit to promote ethics and integrity in business and the profession, the ICAS Ethics Committee carried out a review of the fundamental ethics principles within the ICAS Code of Ethics to try to ensure that they clearly describe the ethical behaviour required of each individual professional accountant in today's world.

The proposed amendments to the current principles were:

  1. The introduction of the new principle of "moral courage".
  2. A greater focus on personal responsibility, ethical leadership and public interest responsibilities.
  3. Highlighting the need for "ethical judgements".
  4. The adoption of the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants' recent proposal relating to the principle of professional behaviour.

In its discussion paper, “The Five Fundamental Ethics Principles: Time for Evaluation?” (published November 2015), the committee welcomed comments on these proposed amendments.

Download The Five Fundamental Ethics Principles: Time for Evaluation?

The discussion paper prompted responses from several large UK accountancy firms, professional bodies, a regulator, and some individuals. The majority of respondents to the discussion paper believed that the current five fundamental ethics principles are still fit for purpose - there was however support for the concept of ‘moral courage’, although not as an additional fundamental ethics principle.

On the basis of this feedback, ICAS decided not to unilaterally adopt an additional fundamental ethics principle of ‘moral courage’ but instead to adopt ‘moral courage’ as an ‘enabler’ – as an underpinning qualitative characteristic required of a professional accountant.

Download the Feedback Statement and Analysis of Responses.


  • The Power of One

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