ARB Compliant: Part 2


 

As always, AARUK invites inquirers and policy-makers to judge for themselves, but only after taking the trouble to review the points at issue fully, and with an uncluttered mind: see the official transcript from Harry Counsell & Co of all the hearings: jointly on 5 October 2005 and on 10, 11 and 19 January 2006, and then separately on 19 January.

On no account can self-serving statements published on the ARB website as the Decisions of the PCC be relied on for disclosing the full facts and issues.

The cases cast a blight on the future prospect of a fair hearing in any future cases before the Committee, which should be reconstituted with persons impeccably qualified to perform the job unencumbered by the errant doctrines now prevailing. In the meantime, all hearings should be suspended or withdrawn.


 

The unjust result of the two cases heard by the PCC was about as odd as could be imagined. It has raised serious doubts about the ability of the Committee (Chairman, solicitor Peter Verdin) to perform its allotted function in accordance with norms of English law and morality as commonly understood and applied (or presumably Scots law in Scottish cases). As the hours of successive hearings went by, it had become apparent that the Conduct Committee would flounder beyond its depth, like the Board itself and its Investigation Committee, should they ever stray from the silted shallows of the Board’s illusions and inventions into clearer waters.

At the very end of the proceedings, the Chairman purported to make a distinction between the two cases on grounds which had not been mentioned at any stage by the Board’s solicitor or by the Committee: not before the hearings, not at the preliminary hearings, not at the full hearing, not at the hearing in mitigation. He made the distinction solely for the purpose of deciding that one of the architects should suffer a fine of £1,000 after deciding that the other would suffer no more than a reprimand.

It would be no exaggeration to say that independent observers who had been following the cases at successive hearings were dismayed that this final injustice should have been wantonly inflicted by a solicitor nominated by the President of the Law Society, with lasting injury to the architect, in the name of the Architects Act 1997. It would have been bad enough coming from a professional colleague or a commanding officer; from this seat of judgment it was intolerable. A body acting in that way is worse than useless: it is dangerous.

Rash

Was it rash of the Committee chairman, and at least one other of its two members who had been selected to form the quorum of three for the hearing of these cases, to have allowed themselves to act in this way? Were they doing no more than they knew or could deduce had been expected of them? After the event, the open letter of 7 June 2005 from the Board chairman (Humphrey Lloyd, QC) and certain other of the documents mentioned in the course of the proceedings can now be seen as pointing in that direction. Do the documents plot a picture? Had the Committee “joined up the dots”?

It now seems so obvious, but neither of the two architects would have known at the time that this would be an explanation for the otherwise inexplicable; and perhaps if the Board chairman were now reproached, he could argue that the ARB had not failed to make the position sufficiently clear, publicly or in confidence, to those who needed to know.

A device

Both cases had been about the Board’s disputed, and still unjustified, claim to be entitled to require architects to give information to the Board about PII cover by way of the “tick-box” form. Given that the Board’s purpose had been to use the cases to obtain from its Professional Conduct Committee a decision favourable to itself against disbelieving architects, the Board was claiming that each of the architects should be convicted of “unacceptable professional conduct” on three separate charges.

As a device for overcoming the lack of any evidence on the first and only substantial charge, the Board’s solicitor claimed that the three charges were “interlinked”. The Board’s intention, which in the result has been aided and abetted by the Committee’s decisions, was to publish the convictions as a threat and boast to others. The Chairman’s minatory bombast in delivering the Committee’s decision was clean contrary to the facts and evidence, and would be consistent with the Committee having made up its mind before the hearing had even started; but it is likely to have the desired effect, and to deceive those who do not know the facts of the matter.

The facts upon which the second and third of the three charges were based were trivial or non-existent in themselves, and were of alleged significance only in connection with the first.

On the first charge, both architects were acquitted. But to secure the acquittal they had been forced, by the Board’s deliberate method of initiating and carrying on the proceedings, to defend themselves against the erroneous contentions of the Board’s solicitor, until at length the Committee gave a decisive ruling against his contention on an important point of evidence and proof. On the second and third charges it was obvious that there was little or nothing of any account.

Character

That being the state of affairs when the time came for the Committee to consider its verdict, the outcome would depend upon the character of the Committee’s statutory function: was it, like that of the Chief Executive (and Registrar), to act as the Board’s administrative enforcement agency; or was it to act judicially and protect accused persons from injustice on the part of the Board? It should be noted that there was no third party complaint whatsoever, but the Committee had quite failed to appreciate the significance of this, probably because they had allowed themselves to be misled by the Board’s solicitor on this as on other points.

The rulings of the Committee, inconsistent though they were, showed that the Committee, or at least the Chairman, wished it to be known and published that when the two functions were in conflict, the Board could rest assured that the enforcement agency function would prevail.

Denounced

But not content with that, the Committee went further still. Knowing full well that the transcript of what he was saying would very soon be published world wide on the ARB website, the Chairman denounced the architects for having defended themselves against the Board’s accusations, in respect of which they had substantially been acquitted; and further denounced them for taking up the time and expense of the Board in defending themselves against a set of distinct charges which the Committee had allowed the Board to present in “interlinked” fashion. The interlinking had been deliberately contrived by the Board in such a way that to defend themselves on the substantial charge for which they were eventually acquitted, they had to defend themselves on the third, and in the end be wrongly convicted on grounds seemingly invented by the Committee for the occasion.

To make matters worse, it was very obvious that at almost any stage of the proceedings the Committee itself, if properly conducted, could have ensured that the prolongation resulting from the Board’s method of setting out and presenting the charges could have been avoided. But the result was that these two blameless architects were blamed, without right of reply, both for the error of the Board in putting a manifestly faulty set of charges and pressing them to the bitter end, and for the Committee’s own failure in proper and just case management.

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