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Retrial: architect not guilty of dishonesty but still suspended

A Manchester-based architect has been cleared of dishonesty by the Architects Registration Board’s professional complaints committee (PCC) following an unprecedented retrial

However the board still decided to throw the book at Faheem Aftab, handing him the maximum possible penalty and suspending him from the register for two years in respect of five charges which he had already admitted to.

Originally struck off by the PCC last summer (AJ 16.07.2012), Aftab subsequently vowed to clear his name and six months later won a rare appeal victory against the board (AJ 17.01.2013).

The architect, who had always denied that he had ‘dishonestly misrepresented’ the true position of his insurance cover on a domestic scheme, successfully argued the charge had not been properly brought, that the decision should not stand and that he should be referred back to the PCC.

At the re-hearing, which focused solely on the dishonesty charge, Aftab was able to produce three new documents and the PCC judged that ‘on the balance of probabilities’ he had not been dishonest.

But the PCC came down heavily on Aftab who had confessed to ‘acting in a manner inconsistent with his professional obligations in respect of the informal and undocumented appointment of the builders and had offered a service that combined consulting services and architectural services without explaining that no independent architectural function could therefore be provided’.

Aftab had also admitted failing ‘to provide adequate competence and resources for the project; had failed to provide sufficient terms of engagement; and had failed to carry out works without undue delay and within agreed cost limits.’

The architect refused to comment on the decision but confirmed he was considering an appeal against the severity of the sentence.

Long-term ARB critic Ian Salisbury was also shocked with the length of the suspension. He said: ‘The suspension was for matters which were all admitted to and for which [the transcript shows]contrition was shown.

‘Aftab presents no danger to the public because he is a “good architect” and unlikely to practise on this kind of work again. I [also] disagree that it is inappropriate [for the PCC] to take into account the period that all this has taken. An erasure usually ends after two years when the architect is permitted to reapply to be entered in the register. This may be suspension, but it the equivalent of an erasure.’

Facts of the case (as set out by the ARB)

The allegations arose from a domestic project Aftab undertook through his firm A-Cube Architects Ltd (now in liquidation). The practice had been appointed by a long-standing friend and his fiancée for major extension works to what was to be their matrimonial home. There were no terms of appointment in place and the only contractor’s tender returned was vastly in excess of the clients’ budget.
To reduce costs, Aftab suggested using building workers he had worked with previously, and who would work on a project of his and the complainants’ project at the same time. He would pay them for both projects and recharge the complainants the cost. He would take payments from them, and pay on their behalf. No contract was ever put in place.
There were numerous problems with the works, including inappropriate behaviour by workmen, damage to a neighbouring property, breaches of Building Regulations, sub-standard work, incorrect specification and a general lack of progress. The workmen had threatened to walk off site because they were not being paid by Aftab or his company, resulting in the complainants having to pay them direct to ensure work continued.
When the complainants refused to pay A-Cube Ltd any more money until a full breakdown of costs and receipts had been provided, A-Cube Ltd issued County Court proceedings. A-Cube Ltd’s claim was struck out, and judgment entered for the complainants on their counter-claim, for a figure, later agreed by the liquidator and put into a consent order but never paid, of £129,000.
After the complainants complained to the Architects Registration Board, ARB enquired about the adequacy of Aftab’s professional indemnity insurance. Aftab sent to ARB a copy of his policy and stated that he had properly notified his insurers of the claim, and that it would be covered. He told ARB that insurers were dealing with the claim, jointly with A-Cube Ltd’s liquidators (because the firm was by then in liquidation), and that he understood the insurers were going to cover any successful claim against A-Cube Ltd. In fact, the committee heard, the insurers had written to A-Cube Ltd some 18 months earlier, declining insurance for this project on the grounds of misrepresentation and non-disclosure of the potential claim, which position they had not changed. Because A-Cube Ltd’s insurance was ineffective, and the firm was in liquidation, Aftab’s clients have been unable to, and are unlikely to, recover any of the £129,000 judgment in their favour.

Previous story (AJ 17.01.2013)

Struck-off architect reinstated onto ARB register after appeal success

A Manchester-based architect has been re-instated to the architects’ register after winning a rare appeal victory against a decision by the Architects Registration Board’s professional complaints committee (PCC).

The ARB admitted there had been a blunder in the proceedings concerning one of seven allegations against Faheem Aftab, who was struck off last July after being found guilty of dishonesty.

Ahead of a hearing in Manchester High Court scheduled for this week, the board conceded to having made an error in the conduct of the original investigation and will now have to restart its enquiry procedure on that allegation.

The case related to a domestic project Aftab undertook through his firm, A-Cube Architects, which is now in liquidation. According to the client there had been numerous problems with the works, including inappropriate behaviour by workmen, damage to a neighbouring property, breaches of Building Regulations, sub-standard work, incorrect specification and a general lack of progress.

Aftab admitted four allegations but always denied that he had ‘dishonestly misrepresented’ the true position of his professional indemnity insurance cover. He was found guilty by the committee, erased from the register and he subsequently appealed.

The allegation was the subject of appeal because of a technical flaw in the proceedings

A spokesman for the ARB said: ‘Following an appeal received in relation to a Professional Conduct Committee decision of July 2012 in the case of Faheem Aftab, the ARB has consented to restore Aftab’s name to the Register and refer four of the five allegations found proved back to the PCC for a reconsideration on what penalty should be imposed.

‘These four allegations were found proved at the original hearing and have not been subject of any appeal.

‘The remaining allegation was the subject of appeal because of a technical flaw in the proceedings, and will be the subject of further investigation.’

Aftab was unavailable for comment.

Long term ARB critic Ian Salisbury, who won a judicial review against the ARB in 2010 for ‘unjustifiably’ exceeding powers given to it by the Architects Act 1997 over PII monitoring, said: ‘If the ARB has dropped a charge and the case has to be reheard, then it sounds like yet another case of the executive interfering with lawful process and getting caught with their pants down.’

He added: ‘The disciplinary process is there to ensure that those who fall seriously short in their professional services are dealt with appropriately. It is not there to allow the Board to act on caprice.’

 

 

 

 

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