High Court holds: “Serious” in Part III of the Act means SERIOUS:
The High Court (Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Court) has ruled on the application of the common law concerning “standards” affecting architects as registered persons.
This was in a reasoned judgment on an appeal by an architect as the “Appellant” against a decision of the PCC. The “Respondent” was the Architects Registration Board, as the statutory corporation which has legal responsibility for its Professional Conduct Committee under the Architects Act 1997. The appeal had been heard in open court on 15 January 2007.
AARUK is grateful to the Clerk of the Board’s PCC for drawing attention to the case, soon after judgment was delivered on 16 March 2007.
The architect had been acquitted by the PCC of a charge of “unacceptable professional conduct” in connection with a contract with private clients for professional services for improvements to a property in London which was their home. The architect had arranged for these “minor” works to be carried out under separate contracts between the clients and a general contractor and, for the installation of certain glass roofing, a specialist contractor. As things turned out, the execution of the works had admittedly been unsatisfactory for the clients, with regard to time, workmanship, and exposure of the property to the winter weather, which, for a while, had affected the habitability of the house; and the question for the Court was whether to overrule a decision of the PCC about the degree of responsibility of the architect for any of that, having regard to the professional services which the architect had undertaken to perform for the clients and the guidance on professional competence which had been issued by the Board.
The written judgment was set out in 34 paragraphs. Parts of it which are of general interest, as distinct from the details of the particular case, include:
Paragraph 3 – Rehearing and findings of fact: An appeal to the High Court under section 22 of the Act is “at large” and not limited to errors of law. It falls within Rule 52.11 of the Civil Procedure Rules as varied by paragraph 22.3 of the Practice Direction to CPR 52.
The judge explained that this put such an appeal “on a par with those for other disciplinary Tribunals” such as the General Medical Council; and therefore “while it is to be a rehearing, in practice the Court will normally rely on the verbatim transcript of the hearing and no evidence will be called”.
He added that the Court would be able to interfere with findings of fact if the Court were persuaded that such findings had not been justified by the evidence because they exceeded the “ambit within which reasonable disagreement about the conclusion to be drawn from the evidence is possible”.
Paragraph 4 – Standards: Concerning setting the standards of professional conduct, the judge explained that the Court will not simply bow to the decision of the PCC; but, for example, in respect of professional competence the Court will be “very cautious” in differing from the evaluation made by the PCC.
Paragraph 8 – “Serious” incompetence and “unacceptable” conduct: The judge noted that the Act “distinguishes between serious professional incompetence and unacceptable professional conduct” and, reasoning that the standard applicable should not differ, explained that, unless what had been done or not done in an individual case could be regarded as a serious lapse, it would not be appropriate to impose a disciplinary sanction. He added: “Only in that way can proper weight be given to the adjective unacceptable”.