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Protect the function, not the name

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The ARB v Baden Hellard case has immense implications for the RIBA and its members. The ARB is claiming that anyone who puts RIBA, FRIBA, or ARIBA after their name must be on the ARB register. This would mean carrying professional indemnity insurance of at least £100,000 for even the smallest oneoff job.

In a new twist, at the appeal in the High Court on 26 February, the ARB claimed that anyone putting Dip Arch after their names would also have to go on its register.

At the last Council meeting on 21 January, Maurice McCarthy put forward an eloquent argument that the RIBA should help Baden Hellard with his costs and that he should be readmitted to the RIBA. He also asked that the RIBA appear in the case as there are serious implications for the institute's membership.

Only the last of these happened when Alex Reid, director general of RIBA, turned up with counsel on 26 February. But it is only in Hollywood dramas that one is able to turn up and inform the judges at 9.50am in a case they are due to hear 40 minutes later, and they allow you to appear.

Reality in Court 2 in the Royal Courts of Justice is a little more circumspect.

'Why are you so late?' asked the judge. 'Has there been a misunderstanding by the RIBA?'

'I was only instructed late last night, ' said the RIBA's QC.

'No one thought of it before, I suppose, ' said the judge, dismissing the DG's last-minute attempt to appear.

Of course the RIBA had a perfect right to do what it did, but one shouldn't leave it until the clock is about to strike midnight. If the ARB wins the appeal, and on the day it was extremely difficult to say which way the case would go, then the RIBA will have no option but to join it and appeal to the House of Lords with Baden Hellard. If it doesn't then the RIBA will lose many members who will see little or no point in belonging to an institute which has so manifestly failed to defend their interests.

The new 1997 Registration Act requires amendment. What should be protected is not the word 'architect' but the function. As one of the judges said in a lighter moment:

'There is a high court judge who is an FRCS but no one in their right mind would allow him to operate on them.'

SAM WEBB By e-mail: sam@walnut.softnet.co.uk

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