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Morris debacle could hit ARB where it hurts

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Before Christmas, the arb announced to the press, and to anyone who cared to read the subsequent articles (see News, aj 14.10.99), four charges of very serious unprofessional conduct cha rges were made against Ingrid Morris. If proved, these would have removed her means of livelihood.

Having known Ingrid for many years and worked alongside her both as a tutor and on the Architectural Association Council, I am very pleased to see that all these unfounded charges were dismissed by arb.

It is normal practice in a legal case for nothing to be printed in the press which could be construed as prejudicial to the defendant before the main trial starts. After all, such comments are only allegation. It is for a court to decide whether or not they are fact. Yet arb operates under a different set of rules. Why was all this allowed to be printed?

No one should have their name and their reputation besmirched in this way before they have had a chance to put their side of the case forward at an official hearing.

Now, after having dragged her good name through the mud, the arb is reported as saying that it is powerless to comment, 'without [Ms Morris's] permission.'

The arb says it is because of the wording of the Architect's Act. If that is the case, then the Act should be amended to bring it in line with normal court procedures. The arb - which was so quick to rush into print before the hearing - should issue a suitable public statement exonerating Morris and, if need be, it should be printed in the national press.

The arb further refused to allow Ingrid Morris her costs because, in the words of the chairman of the disciplinary committee, 'she brought the case on herself by the way she gave evidence in the High Court.'

Firstly, how could anyone from arb make any reasonable judgement about this? That case took place over nine and a half weeks from October until December 1994.

Morris was in the witness box for a total of nine and a half days. The judge took until May 1995 to deliver his judgement. It had no bearing on the matters before the disciplinary committee.

The High Court case was conducted by her insurers, who would not take the decision to appeal. All control over what happened was in their hands.

Morris convinced the arb that the High Court judge got his judgement wrong on many issues. Some of these issues were of factual evidence. One of the things the judge said was that she was unfamiliar with the documents. These trial bundles had been compiled chronologically by the plaintiff rather than by who they were going to. She admits she was confused by the way her documents had been refiled in a different order by the plaintiff. She only saw them a short time before the case was to be heard.

The disciplinary procedures of the arb work to safeguard the public interest and protect the good name of architects. To do this, they must not only be seen to work fairly. They must also operate within the law and allow a defendant the benefit of a fair hearing. There must be no chance for the arb to mount a legal ambush.

This means the arb disciplinary committee must follow a laid-down procedure. That procedure must be known by the defendant and the defendant must be given notice of the particulars of the charges and not have to second- guess what they might or might not be, as is claimed.

Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 lays this down. The uk is indeed a signatory to that Act. European law, as various home secretaries have found to their cost, is superior to national law. And the arb is not immune.

So it may yet prove to be the case that the lay members and the remaining three architects on arb could find themselves personally liable for Morris's legal costs last week, and for the cost of taking her appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, if she is successful.

As Arthur Korn used to say when Ingrid Morris was a student at the aa: 'Think on this ... '.

Sam Webb, Canterbury, Kent

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