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Architects win court case over work by unregistered staff

A London practice has won a ground-breaking court battle over the status of work carried out by unregistered staff - in a ruling which could also lead to speedier payment of disputed fees.

Munkenbeck + Marshall won just over £67,000 in unpaid fees and more than £8000 interest for work in a 230-room London hotel. The client, Kensington Hotel, disputed the fees being charged by the six-strong design team, half of whom were not arb registered, said Alfred Munkenbeck. The client had counter-claimed over alleged delays in work.

The architects included three graduates, one from Canada with Part II equivalent qualifications but not registered with the arb. One designer had eight years' experience but had never sat Part III exams.

Munkenbeck said the judge had found that 'we had loosely used the term architect and that was all right'. There was a colloquial meaning which people commonly understood to mean someone who had graduated from architecture school, he said. 'It is belittling to call people assistants when they have years of experience.'

Mr Justice Wilcox also ruled that the architect could be paid without referring to the counter claim. Munkenbeck said that such a ruling implied it was now possible to win fees even if there was a difficult counter- claim, which could in many cases take several years and hold up payment. 'The judge will allow you to be paid before you hear the counter-claim. Up to now it's always been presumed any counter-claim had to be dealt with first.'

He added: 'It is good that the clients have to put their money down. If they withhold it, they withhold fees. It is then difficult to pay insurance fees, which means they are not protected if they have a valid counter- claim.'

It is not known whether Kensington Hotel will appeal or press ahead with its counter-claim.

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