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RIBA councillor resigns over London Region debacle

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An RIBA councillor has quit in protest against the institute’s handling of the resignation of London Region chair Azar Djamali

Councillor Chris Roche declared his own resignation on Thursday after making an impassioned speech to council demanding an official apology for events which took place in the London Region last year.

In April 2010 RIBA London chair Azar Djamali stepped down from her role as region figurehead ahead of a vote of no confidence in her leadership. Her departure – just six months after she took the role – followed members’ calls for her resignation.

Speaking to the AJ on Friday, Roche of 1104 Architects said he rejected the RIBA’s official line that problems in the region had been resolved - despite London voting in a new regional structure in January (AJ 27.01.11) - and had been given no option but to stand down.

He said: ‘I don’t want to resign but it is the last sanction of a person faced by a moral dilemma.

‘If I continue on council it is tantamount to accepting the RIBA’s argument that there is no issue here, that it is closed and that there’s no action that needs to be taken further.

‘The facts [concerning disputes over the election of the RIBA London region chair] have been withheld from council by the RIBA executive.

‘Every one of the 21 members who witnessed John Devlin’s report will tell you [the RIBA position] in no way reflects John Devlin’s viewpoint and his findings.’

Devlin was RIBA vice president of membership at the time of Djamali’s resignation.

Roche alleged that staff and RIBA members harassed Djamali and added that he was ‘victimised’ after he made a complaint about ‘undemocratic and unconstitutional behaviour’ to the charity commission. The subsequent charity commission was abandonded.

Yesterday Roche’s motion calling for an apology from RIBA president Ruth Reed to Djamali was defeated.

Roche said: ‘There are no winners of losers in this sorry mess but there is such a thing as a moral victory and I feel we’ve won a moral victory on behalf of the membership.’

He added that he welcomed a vote which took place later in the day establishing a new code of conduct and procedure for dealing with complaints by institute members. He said: ‘Azar [Djamali] was harassed as chair in a way that would not be allowed under the new code of conduct.’

Following Roche’s speech on Thursday (24 March) which took place behind closed doors in a confidential session of the council meeting, president-elect Angela Brady pleaded with him to withdraw his resignation, saying: ‘Don’t resign, you’ve got so much to give.’



Chris Roche’s resignation statement


To RIBA Council 

At the RIBA Council Meeting on the 24th March 2011, I asked Council to support my motion to direct the president of the RIBA, Ruth Reed, to apologize to Azar Djamali (RIBA Council Member and former Chair of RIBA London), and Chris Roche (RIBA Council Member and past Deputy Chair of RIBA London).

At issue was the sanctity of democracy, and the integrity of the democratic process.

The RIBA Executive to their credit allowed a difficult and challenging debate to progress, confident they would win.

There were 11 votes in support of my motion, 19 abstentions, and 15 votes against my motion.

This suggests a hollow victory for the Executive and a resounding moral victory for Council.

Nonetheless, there are no winners in this dark period in the history of the RIBA.

The Institute has lost. However we can now look forward to a brighter future, with a new Code of Conduct for RIBA Members which I fully support and endorse.

In my introduction of the motion I argued that Azar Djamali had been harassed by senior staff, and a small group of fellow members, prior to taking up office as London Region Chair. The harassment continued throughout her time in office, and appeared to be both condoned and supported by the RIBA Executive.

I repeatedly brought the matter to the attention of the President and the Chief Executive of the RIBA.

As a result of my appeals for matters to be investigated by the RIBA, I too found myself being “Harassed” by the RIBA Executive.

I took advice from the Charities Commission on my legal responsibilities as a trustee of a Charity, and they advised me that I had a legal responsibility to report actions which could lead to the reputation of the RIBA being damaged.

I subsequently advised the RIBA of my complaints to the Charity Commission.

The facts that gave rise to this serious situation have been withheld from RIBA Council, and misrepresented in the press.

I believe the RIBA failed the individuals concerned, and failed the membership in so doing.

The recorded Council votes suggest opinion is divided on the way the RIBA, has handled this matter, and the majority of Council members either supported, or abstained from voting against the motion.

I introduced the motion by suggesting the issue at hand was the correct Governance of the RIBA in the firm belief that in abusing one member, the Institute was guilty of abusing the membership as a whole.

The issue was not about an apology, however it was about closure, at least at a personal level, for all those harmed by this process - and there have been a great many individuals harmed.

The RIBA claim they have dealt with the issues, and the matter is closed.

I believe, as do many senior elected members of the RIBA that the Institute has not “dealt” with the issues, has not achieved closure, and have not learnt the lessons of this sorry chapter in the RIBA’s history.

In refusing  an apology the RIBA continues it’s denial of events, and more importantly continues it’s harassment.

The RIBA Executive may have won the vote on this motion, however the real victory belongs to the majority of Council members who chose to abstain.

They voted with their conscience, and used their discretion - wisely and responsibly.

All that remains, is for me to thank my fellow Council members for their fellowship and support, throughout my 5 years on Council, and to exercise the last remaining  democratic option available to me, which is to resign my position on Council, which I do with immediate effect.

Chris Roche RIBA


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