CTV building collapse: Judge rules in favour of allowing professional body to investigate former engineer

The six-storey Canterbury Television Building collapsed during the Christchurch earthquake.
The six-storey Canterbury Television Building collapsed during the Christchurch earthquake. Photo credit: AFP/Marty Melville

The professional engineering body can take disciplinary action against the man whose company designed the CTV building, a judge has ruled.

The six-storey Canterbury Television Building collapsed during the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011, killing 115 people.

Engineering New Zealand (ENZ - formerly known as the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand, or IPENZ) wants to investigate whether Dr Alan Reay should have better supervised his employee who designed the building.

However, Reay is calling for the disciplinary action to be abandoned because of how much time has passed. 

It follows years of litigation, including judicial decisions on whether a disciplinary committee had the jurisdiction to investigate someone who was no longer a member of the professional body.

Now, Justice Paul Radich has ruled in ENZ's favour.

"The disciplinary process is able to, and should, see itself through," the judge said, noting the court would not normally intervene before a complaint process was completed.

"I am satisfied that in this case it continues to be in the public interest to enable the Disciplinary Committee to consider the complaints substantively." 

At a hearing at the High Court in Wellington last month, Reay's lawyer, Kristy McDonald, argued there was no explicit requirement under the 1986 rules - when the building was constructed - for her client to supervise his employee.

She argued the agency had not specified which rule her client was meant to have broken, and had drawn the matter out over more than a decade.

There was no need to protect the public, McDonald said, as Reay was now 82 and had retired from engineering.

Justice Radich said while the 1986 code did not refer explicitly to supervision, it was implied in how the provisions were worded. 

"A member operating a business that employs other engineers will, if they are to act professionally and with integrity, and if they are to recognise their responsibilities in the public interest and to their profession, supervise those employees," the judge said.

"Accordingly, it is for the Disciplinary Committee to determine, based upon evidence of the nature of Dr Reay's practice in 1986, whether his peers would regard that conduct as being in line with generally accepted standards of the profession at the time."

While he acknowledged the time that had elapsed, Justice Radich found the delays should not prevent the disciplinary hearing from proceeding, and would not unfairly impact Reay.

ENZ chief executive Dr Richard Templer said he was encouraged by the court's decision. 

"The reality is it's been 12 years since the Christchurch earthquake, whereby 115 people tragically lost their lives when the CTV Building collapsed.

"People are looking for answers and this decision confirms this complaint must be allowed to continue through the normal process and be heard by a Disciplinary Committee from the profession."

The disciplinary process would begin as quickly as possible, Templer said.

A 2012 Royal Commission Inquiry found Reay's employee, engineer David Harding, made fundamental errors in designing the building. 

It criticised Reay for handing sole responsibility for the design over to somebody so inexperienced.

That same year, 54 family members and the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment's chief engineer made complaints about both men to the professional body.

A separate police investigation which concluded in November 2017 resulted in no criminal prosecution for the building's collapse.