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RIBA councillor urges legal action over affix dispute

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The riba should take the Architects Registration Board to court over its attempts to widen interpretation of the Architects Act 1997 to apply to affixes, says former honorary secretary Maurice McCarthy. A motion to be delivered to riba Council next week presses the institute to get leading counsel's opinion as to how the riba may assist members to defend their Charter rights through the courts by beginning legal action against either the arb, its officers or individual members.

The move comes in the light of the row last year over unregistered riba fellow Ron Baden Hellard, for whom McCarthy gave evidence when the arb (then Arcuk) tried to prosecute him for allegedly practising as an architect. Hellard, who had been using his friba suffix but not practising, lost a Crown Court appeal following his win in the magistrates' court.

Now McCarthy is urging the Institute to issue a press release reaffirming the Charter right of its honorary fellows and members to use the appropriate affix. He will also call on riba president David Rock to fire off a series of letters on the issue: to arb chairman Barbara Kelly, requesting a full explanation; to the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions, conveying council's concern and asking how it may intervene in the public interest; and to relevant ministers.

The arb could also be in the dock at next week's council over its code of professional conduct, when a paper by Jack Whittle, chairman of the riba's code committee, will call upon the board to define what constitutes 'serious professional incompetence'. Whittle writes: 'The board has a duty to define an offence which opens architects to a charge which, if upheld, would have grave professional consequences.' But a spokesperson for the arb said that no definition would be forthcoming: 'There is no need to define it any more specifically because no one else does,' she said.

Other criticisms concern the tone and language of the code, which the riba feels is more like 'a manual of office procedures' containing 'very unsatisfactory' elements. The arb has responded that it is not written in stone and other areas are subject to change as matters are raised.

See letters, pages 24-26

The arb erased Richard Lindsay from the register after it found him guilty of 'disgraceful professional conduct', it emerged this week. He had been commissioned in 1996 to carry out a loft conversion at Boonswood in Cumbria, but the job was a 'disaster' in the view of the committee, which cites conflicting drawings faulty supervision of staff, the absence of any tender process and the fact that there was no formal contract in place as the reasons for its decision.

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