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ARB to overhaul 'lynching system'

The Architects’ Registration Board (ARB) has been forced to shake up the way it investigates complaints for the second time in two years in a bid to resolve ‘chronic problems’ with its Investigations Committee

The committee, which handles grievances about architects’ conduct and competence, was restructured in April 2011. However, the board has admitted that the body ‘continues to struggle’ to make decisions within target timeframes.

New figures covering the first half of 2012 show that last year’s expansion of the committee from three to five members has had little effect on performance. Just 12.5 per cent of cases were dealt with on time – only a marginal improvement on the 9.5 per cent in the same period last year.

A number of architects have contacted the AJ to share their own concerns about the current procedures. One said: ‘I’ve found the investigation committee to be inconsistent and lacking rigour. I’m not convinced the substantial information I supplied was analysed and that is not acceptable.’

I’ve found the investigation committee to be inconsistent and lacking rigour

Another described the current investigations process as a ‘lynching system’ and was unhappy that there was no comeback on members of the committee who might be found to be incompetent or prejudiced.

Responding to the failings, the ARB has now approved further changes to the Investigation Rules and the way in which it handles complaints. It plans to replace what is presently a board member-based committee with a larger pool of independent investigators.

The ARB hope the restructure will help to streamline the process by providing a ‘bigger, broader selection of investigators to call on’ and the decision has also been cautiously welcomed as a ‘step in the right direction’ by architects who have criticised the ARB for its ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach.

Owen Luder, ex-chairman of the ARB added: ‘In any disciplinary situation you are judged by your peers. Decision makers should be people who are answerable if they’re found guilty of misconduct and can be struck off. This situation does not occur in any other profession.’

Since there will be no direct board member involvement in the investigations process the ARB intends to establish a further committee, the Investigations Oversight Committee (IOC) – although it is not clear precisely what its role will be.

Luder welcomed the changes but expressed concern over the size of the pool and the quality of the people appointed to it: ‘There’s a very strong case for having an Investigations Pool. It’s important that the ARB sort out the role of the IOC and how they can intervene in an investigation if it goes wrong’.

The board have broadly approved the amendments to the Investigation Rules and will discuss the terms of reference for its new IOC in September. The new rules are expected to come into effect on 1 January 2013 although it has been agreed that the IOC must be in place before the amended Rules can come into effect.

Comment from the ARB:

‘The newly-constituted investigations pool will perform the same role as the Investigations Committee, except the processes will be subject to scrutiny by an oversight committee, composed of Board members, to ensure the process operates fairly and consistently for all parties.  The Board will be considering further the committee’s terms of reference at its September meeting.

‘The Board acknowledged that the timescales for dealing with complaints should be improved, which is why ARB embarked on the consultation exercise.  We believe that these changes will enhance the process and reduce the timescales.’

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