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ARB plans legal-aid initiative to protect against spiralling costs

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The Architects Registration Board (ARB) is planning to offer architects protection against legal costs if they are brought before the regulator's disciplinary panel. The protection would cost between £5 and £20 per year as an extension to existing professional indemnity insurance.

The initiative follows cases where lawyers' fees have spiralled out of control, and the ARB said it is in preliminary discussions with a number of insurers to find a solution.

In January, Ingrid Morris revealed that she faces a £20,000 legal bill despite being cleared of four charges against her at the professional conduct committee.Under the Architect's Act, the ARB cannot award costs and her insurer refused to pay out.

'The issue of paying for costs worries me, ' said ARB chief executive Robin Vaughan, who is leading the initiative.'Sometimes people don't have liability cover in place.

If you do and insurers think that what you did was wrong then they won't pay out.'

The move is an attempt to address criticisms that the disciplinary process is too costly and that it can be cheaper to plead guilty and pay a fine than risk incurring legal costs.

The ARB received 850 complaints against architects in 1999 and expects to hear at least one professional conduct case every month over the next year. The ARB's own legal and professional costs amounted to £165,000 last year, more than 10 per cent of its total annual expenditure.

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