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Baden Hellard, 50 years on from the Blitz

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'If a member of the RIBA has not applied for registration by 1 August, will he be legally entitled to use the affix FRIBA, ARIBA or LRIBA?'

'No, ' was the opinion given by King's Counsel John Morris on 7 June 1940 - just three days after the evacuation of Dunkirk. Churchill had succeeded Chamberlain only 27 days before, Beaverbrook was the new Minister for Aircraft Production, Mosley was in the slammer and German soldiers were studying their English phrase books in preparation for invasion. It's amazing that Morris could even address such an issue in the threatening circumstances that prevailed. But KCs (now QCs) have extraordinary powers of concentration.

Morris reasoned as follows: 'The letters or initials have no significance or meaning whatsoever save as denoting the words for which they stand - the style or title of a fellow of the RIBA; that style or title is one containing the word Architect'.

He concluded 'an architect who uses the letters FRIBA after his name is practising or carrying on business under a name style or title containing the word Architect'.

ARCUK relied upon this opinion over 50 years later in its case against Baden Hellard in the magistrates' court - a case that it won, only to see the judgment overturned in the Crown Court.

But why should this matter? Anyone can call themselves doctor or solicitor, so why not architect? The answer is that, irrespective of what they call themselves, people are barred by statute from practising medicine or law unless they are registered. Those professions enjoy protection of function; as do architects in the US and elsewhere. In contrast, anyone here can function as an architect - even the milkman can draw up plans and submit them for a fee on behalf of customers without one iota of a clue what he's doing, and without any qualification whatsoever. But he mustn't call himself an architect. This is the underlying flaw in the registration law governing architecture: because it cannot protect function it is very difficult to administer an Act with any useful purpose.

As I wrote last week, the ARB today starts its High Court appeal over the Hellard ruling, but faces a Catch 22 situation whatever the result of this test case. To lose will reveal a major loophole in the legislation as 18,801 UK architect members of the RIBA can walk away from registration, effectively claiming that they are chartered architects through use of the affix RIBA, thus saving themselves the registration fees which are expected to escalate sharply over the coming months.

Conversely, if the ARB wins, all those members of the RIBA who, for whatever reason, are no longer registered, will be liable to prosecution if they use the affix RIBA in connection with any business activity - including delivering milk. That would involve the ARB in an enormously costly and deeply unpopular - perhaps unworkable - enforcement campaign in circumstances where the proportion of non-registered architects is set to grow even larger, now that the new ARB conduct code requires CPD and PI cover.

Registration is, after all, becoming ever less feasible for those who are retired or active in areas away from practice, such as arbitration, research or project management.

Nearly sixty years on from the Blitz, the ARB faces a rough ride over this one.

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