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ARB comments were unfair and premature

  • Comment

I would be grateful for the opportunity to comment on the article, in which the chief executive of the Architects Registration Board (ARB) was reported to have made disparaging remarks about me (AJ 17.7.03).

Robin Vaughan should not have presumed to make those comments, for the process of examining the legal opinion has not been completed.No decision has been taken by the board in the only way permitted under its own rules: for no business may be conducted unless there is a meeting in which there is a quorum of its members. There has been no meeting of the board since the legal opinion was delivered, and therefore, although I have only recently been elected to the board, it appears to me that the chief executive's comments are wholly out of order.

Readers may wish to know that this is just one instance in a stream of irregularities, including altering my election statement, denying me access to board papers, attempting to silence me in a board meeting, and failing to give proper consideration to any of my papers before reaching these so-called 'findings'.

As any architect who was practising in 1998 may remember, the then chair of the board sent a letter saying: 'You might not be aware that in addition to the statutory functions that the ARB is undertaking in place of ARCUK, ARB's remit is considerably wider with its widened remit, ARB would be unable to meet its statutory responsibilities on the income generated by the present level of retention fee'.

In my view this alone is sufficient to justify a proper inquiry into the validity of the decisions ofthe board and to ensure that the board does not now act with the all-too-usual practice of officious self-regard.

A call has already been made to hold the meeting that will discuss these issues in closed session, and every member of the board has been cautioned incessantly against divulging the legal opinion to anybody. But revealing the contents of the opinion is not necessary in order to call it into question.

For a legal opinion is simply that; it is neither a 'decision' nor a 'finding', and in due course the members of the board will have to consider its merits properly. In doing so they will, I have no doubt, bear in mind that no one can usefully comment on a barrister's opinion until the full extent of the instructions, written and oral, have been disclosed. Those instructions were given not by an independent solicitor as I requested, but by the board's solicitor, whom it may fairly be presumed will have advised in the past on the decisions now called into question.

Part of the solicitor's instructions included giving his own advice, giving his own questions and answers about the powers and duties of the board and his notes on the limitations of the powers and the duties of the board. I understand the questions were formulated by members of the board whose past decisions I have criticised.

Then a meeting was held in conference with the barrister at which no elected architect member was present.

The legal opinion was sent to all members of the board on 3 July; that is, apart from me. I was on holiday, although I have constantly been in touch with my office. It was not sent to me until after the decision was taken to publish the opinion 'in broad terms', and I was not sent it because the chief executive 'thought it unwise to have it lying around for the time I was away'.

I would therefore have been deprived of any opportunity to comment had it not been for the initiative of colleague members who immediately reached me on my mobile phone. Meanwhile, I am denied sight of any background document given to the barrister (including the transcription of my own speech) on the grounds that they may only be revealed to me if the board so decides.

At the board meeting in May in which I tabled my papers I said I had no objection to my views being impartially and objectively tested. At present there can be no confidence that this has been done, despite the expenditure.

Ian Salisbury, Oxford

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