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Settlement of dispute out of court is unfair

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In response to your news story 'Bramante suspended' (aj 18.11.99) I would like to give my side of the story.

The dispute is about £300, the amount I deducted from a bill of some £1200 by a freelance architect, Murray Denham, on the grounds that apart from exaggerated time and expenses sheets, the survey he produced for a job in Notting Hill was defective. Another architect had to be engaged to produce a correct survey. It would indeed have been unprofessional to bill our client twice for the same survey, ie the correct one and the defective one.

Mr Denham returned the £900 he was paid and sued for the whole amount, ie £1200, of which only £300 was in dispute. At the County Court hearing, the judge did not hear the full evidence, could not understand the drawings and found that 'on the balance of probability' Mr Denham should be paid in full.

I applied for the judgement to be set aside and have since been advised by the Court that an appeal hearing will be set for January or February 2000.

It is alleged that a hearing took place on 11 June. The Court accepts failing to advise me of this and to issue an order. In fact, on 4 December 1998 I received a notice from the Court advising me that the judgement had been set aside and it was reasonable that I regarded the matter as concluded.

At that point Mr Denham decided to use the arb as a debt collecting service, the court having seemingly rejected his claim.

Many months later, I received a call from the arb's solicitor who contended that the judgement had not been set aside. I immediately contacted the Court to find out if the judgement had been set aside and when my appeal would be heard.

As yet I have not had the opportunity to contend the matter in an appeal hearing. This is to be listed for early next year. What makes the arb's decision to suspend me so bizarre is that they have rushed in with a disciplinary hearing even before the appeal has been heard and while the matter remains live before the Court.

Can we now expect the arb to rule on every £300 dispute between an architect and a contractor or freelance employee? What about £50 or £5 disputes - is there a limit where common sense will prevail? If my case is anything to go by, most of the profession will probably need to be suspended from the arb register at some point in their career. Or am I just being singled out to send some sort of message to the profession?

If the arb intends to set up an arbitration service, that's fine, but here it has acted as judge, jury and executioner.

Gabriele Bramante, Bramante Architects, London W12

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