An extraordinary last-ditch attempt by RIBA director-general Alex Reid to make presentations in defence of Ron Baden Hellard in the High Court failed last week when judges denied him and his counsel a chance to speak. Baden Hellard was preparing to fight his case against an Architects Registration Board prosecution, when Reid unexpectedly asked judges for permission to appear just 40 minutes before the case was to be heard last Thursday morning. RIBA's counsel had been instructed to prepare an affidavit only the night before, despite months of discussion about the case.
Hellard, 71, claims that as a retired architect who no longer practises, he is still entitled to use the letters FRIBA as a fellow of the institute. But the ARB, after a complaint from a disgruntled client, has taken him to court as part of a campaign against unregistered individuals styling themselves architects.
Elizabeth Appleby QC, for the ARB, said the FRIBA initials could mean nothing other than that the person using them was an architect. Regulations existed 'to protect the public from people who describe themselves as architects without being so'.
Counsel for Baden Hellard said it was 'totally unfair' for him to be refused permission to keep the suffix FRIBA after his name just because he had retired. Equally, if he set up a business - as Baden Hellard had done - he was entitled to use the same suffix, providing it was not a part of that business's title.
Replying, Appleby said if Baden Hellard won his case, it would 'drive a coach and horses' through the Architects Registration Act of 1938.
'He was indicating to everybody all the skills he had and the use of the letters FRIBA betokened to the 'man in the street' and anyone else that he was an architect.'
RIBA councillor Maurice McCarthy said it could be 'a blessing in disguise' that the RIBA affidavit, sworn by Reid, was not heard. He said that if Baden Hellard lost it would precipitate a 'radical rethinking of the profession and of the need for the ARB'; there would be a move to find funds for an appeal and the RIBA would 'have to consider its position in Europe'.
Alex Reid told the AJ that RIBA solicitor Park Nelson had initially advised 'weeks ago' that a representation was impossible, but as the case drew nearer and the institute's 'concerns' grew, it was urged to make an attempt. The barrister, employed at a cost of hundreds of pounds, will later assist in advice to RIBA members once the verdict is reached. Reid added that although 'hundreds' of RIBAmembers are in a similar position to Baden Hellard, 'the great majority' would 'probably like to see the ARB take an aggressive view on this, ' he said.
Because it was not a clear-cut case, the decision is due in two to three weeks' time.