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In trying to overturn the ARB Professional Conduct Committee's (PCC's) findings against her, Senka Vranicki's case (Judgment 16.03.07) has highlighted how the appeal system works, writes Sue Lindsey ( ajplus 27.03.07). Vranicki was charged by the ARB with both aspects of professional misconduct set out in Section 14 of the Architects Act 1997, namely unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence. The PCC brought what they described as seven charges, each relating to a specific aspect of Vranicki's work in relation to a house extension. It made findings of serious professional incompetence against her in respect of two out of the seven charges. The findings mainly related to a failure to put in place appropriate contractual arrangements to deal with a main contractor and a specialist glazing contractor, as a result of which Vranicki was unable to retain proper control in her capacity as contract administrator.

Vranicki appealed to the High Court, using Section 22 of the Act (there is no further appeal from the findings of the court). Like many other appeals from disciplinary tribunals, the form of the appeal allowed by the act is not limited to errors of law, but is a complete reconsideration of the evidence.

As is usual, the court relied on verbatim transcripts of the evidence given to the PCC, rather than hearing it all again.

The judge, Mr Justice Collins, explained that there had been a misconception as to what amounted to a charge.

The PCC had wrongly described the seven allegations as charges. They were in fact particulars of matters that might substantiate the two charges of unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence provided in the act. According to the judge, the PCC should have formed a view about each of the seven matters and then decided whether, when taken together, either of the statutory charges were made out.

The judge also considered the various other relevant documents produced by the ARB, including the PCC Rules, the Code of Conduct, and the ARB's guidance on what constitutes unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence. He was critical of the guidance note that describes serious professional incompetence by using the phrase 'when an architect's standard of competence falls dramatically below that expected', saying that this suggested a somewhat higher standard than that of 'serious' which is imposed by the act.

However, this clarification, while of interest to the profession as a whole, did not vindicate Vranicki. Having explained that the court is reluctant to interfere with findings of fact unless persuaded that they were not justified by the evidence, the judge upheld the PCC's view of the facts. He went on to say that it is the job of the PCC to set the standard applied by practitioners, and that the court should not interfere unless it is unreasonable to conclude that the standard has been set properly.

Despite the problem that the PCC had treated the seven allegations as separate charges, the judge used the guidance provision that a number of events, though not serious in themselves, may together demonstrate a pattern of incompetence. Although he expressed sympathy for Vranicki, the judge was not persuaded that the PCC was wrong to have found that serious professional incompetence was established.

Sue Lindsey is a barrister at Crown Office Chambers in London. Visit www. crownofficechambers.com

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