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ARB accused of wasting money in conduct case

The Architects' Registration Board (ARB) came under renewed fire for wasting time and money last week when it was forced to abandon a landmark professional conduct committee case due to lack of evidence.

London architect Jack Schneider was accused of serious professional incompetence over a major house refurbishment in Belsize Park. But after two years of investigations and legal costs of £10,000 incurred by Schneider alone, the case was abandoned halfway through.

'This is a case that should never have been brought, ' said Schneider's solicitor, Bob John.

'There was not even evidence for a charge of negligence. It was the wrong one to choose for a test case.' The case was the first for serious professional incompetence since the Architects Act of 1997.

Proceedings were halted last Wednesday before either Schneider or his expert witness were called to give evidence. The committee said that the ARB's case presented insufficient evidence of the 'shameful, dishonourable or degrading behaviour' contained in the charge. That said that the architect was responsible for contractors who failed to follow guidelines, that he did not supervise work on site and that he did know enough about the local planning regime.

'He showed quite a degree of competence in his debate with Camden Council, ' said committee chairman Peter Verdin. The decision contradicted the view of the ARB's investigator, Michael Harris, who said that he had found 'incompetence and no sufficient standard to be expected of an architect'. The ARBdeclined to comment on the outcome.

Schneider also has fees worth £8000 outstanding on the £280,000 job and now says that these may never be paid. 'I'm pleased that this is over. The case was ridiculously long - it took two years since the complaint was made.'

Schneider said he met the ARB's investigator for less than an hour at the end of 1998 and didn't hear from him again until his report was delivered one week before the case was first due to be heard.

'I have a very poor opinion of this. I am registered with the ARB and this is my professional board. I would have preferred at least a telephone call to go through the points the investigator would make, ' he said.

Schneider is the latest conduct committee defendant to emerge dissatisfied from hearings with charges dropped. In January, Ingrid Morris was left with a £25,000 legal bill after being found not guilty of three out of four conduct charges. She described as 'appalling' the fact that the investigator in her case never interviewed her or saw any of her documents. 'In retrospect, I don't think I'd ever have fought the case, ' she said.

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