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Fundamental ambiguity over registration

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Win or lose, the ARB will get a bloody nose over the Baden Hellard appeal due in the High Court next Thursday. The hapless registrar faces costs of up to £60,000, and all in pursuit of zilch for public interest and even less for the profession.

This dispute should not be muddled with the Bramante case which also aroused strong interest. Of course her much-publicised Citizen's Advice Bureau was an outstanding design for which the high praise gained was well-deserved, but the point there was that ARCUK had, and ARB now has, a statutory duty to protect the title 'architect'. This is because Parliament has deemed it necessary that those offering service as an architect shou ld have proven ab i l i t ies in a broader field than solely design.

Bramante had not qualified and therefore had no 'tested' competence in areas such as contract law, cost control, and project management. She was perfectly entitled to design buildings, obtain statutory consents, oversee and administer building work, and charge a fee. But she was not permitted at that time to use the title 'architect'. The ARB has a statutory duty to prosecute in such cases - no ifs or buts: it's as simple as that!

In stark contrast to Bramante (who has of course since registered), the Hellard dispute does not, on the face of it, arise from misuse of the title 'architect' - or does it? Seventy-year-old Hellard was charged for using the affix FRIBA despite having ceased to maintain registration. ARCUK won a case against him in a magistrates' court but a Crown Court appeal overturned that decision. The ARB has now taken up the cudgel in the High Court.

For those not versed in the legal subtleties, Crown Court decisions are not binding on magistrates' courts, so the ARB is now in the daft situation whereby it can win identical cases in magistrates' courts, only to see them successfully appealed in Crown Courts! The ARB/Hellard High Court result will, however, be persuasive in all future cases in all courts - that is its significance.

The important question that the case raises is not whether Hellard breached the law by use of the word 'architect' in his title (as he clearly did not), but whether by using the affix RIBA he was in effect doing the same thing. In this respect he is of course not alone: project manager Maurice McCarthy, unregistered, also uses the title 'RIBA' and held office as honorary secretary of the institute.

That is why this case is so important.

If the ARB loses it makes a fool of itself and wastes a small fortune of our money. But if it wins, it will be obliged to prosecute those other 'unregistered' RIBA members who also use the title 'RIBA' while carrying on 'business' activities. By attempting to protect title and not function, the law governing architecture has produced an apparently irreconcilable conflict between the institute and the registration board - particularly at this time when the scope of members' activities outside practice is widening.

Sadly, while the ARB locks itself in deadly combat with the RIBA over the semantics of Hellard's case, it misses the real point: the registration law is flawed at its very core. The registrar would do architecture, and all involved with it, a great service if he addressed that issue instead.

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