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ARB hits back at architect’s criticism over ‘costly’ disciplinary process

The ARB has defended its disciplinary process, including the large costs incurred by architects that hire lawyers to represent them

The Board was responding to criticism from Dundee-based architect Julian Hunter who hit out after he was found guilty of both unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence and fined £2,000.

Referring to the PCC hearing in December, Hunter said he had been unprepared for the ferocity of the grilling by the board’s solicitor and couldn’t afford his own legal representation. He said: ‘A lawyer was going to cost me £10,000 against a maximum fine of £5,000. So it was a commercial decision to represent myself.’

But ARB professional standards manager Simon Howard denied that the process was flawed: ‘We acknowledge that architects may be unable to afford a lawyer,’ he said.

‘However legal representation is not required at the Professional Conduct Committee, which is used to dealing with unrepresented respondents and has specific guidance to ensure that it makes appropriate allowances,’ said Howard.

‘It would not be in the public interest to try to restrict a member of the public from raising a matter relating to conduct or serious professional incompetence of an architect by imposing a cost for doing so.

‘Architects are presumed innocent throughout the ARB disciplinary process. Only when the facts of the case are proved on the balance of probabilities will the professional conduct committee consider whether the architect might be guilty of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence,’ Howard added.

Last summer Design Council Cabe chair Paul Finch wrote in AJ that ARB relied on ‘kangaroo court procedures’ where it acted ‘as prosecutor, judge and jury’.

Hunter, whose case regarded a self-build project for a client, told AJ. ‘Being cross-examined by a lawyer in front of a panel is daunting.’

‘I was unprepared for the onslaught,’ he added.

The ARB committee found that the client had not been made aware of the lack of a building warrant for the scheme until the local council ordered it to stop construction. The panel said this failure to inform the client amounted to unacceptable professional conduct from the architect.

But Hunter claimed at the hearing that he had told the client verbally about the lack of a warrant. He said the client denied this and the panel was left to choose who to believe.

The committee also found that Hunter had been ‘very dilatory’ in the provision of architectural drawings upon which it said his client was relying. It said these delays amounted to serious professional incompetence.

Hunter countered that some of his drawings contained information that was not correctly interpreted by the client.

The architect described the guilty verdict as ‘ridiculous’ and insisted there was not enough evidence against him to reach such a conclusion.

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