Disciplinary investigations against architects #4 - investigations panel stage
Further to our previous three articles which provided (1) an overview of the Architect Registration Board's disciplinary process and (2) a review of the complaints stage (3) the review stage, this article explains the next stage of a disciplinary investigation against an Architect: the investigations panel stage.
Once the Professional Standards team has undertaken their preliminary work on a complaint, it is referred to an Investigations Panel. Three people from the Investigations Pool will be chosen to investigate the complaint; one will be an architect and the remaining two will be members of the public.
Before making a decision, the Investigations Panel will usually request written representations from the Architect in respect of the case. It is important to get your response right; a cogent (non-emotive) and plausible alternative factual version of events is the best way to undermine any complaint. As far as possible this should be supported by contemporaneous evidence such as emails and telephone attendance notes.
The Investigations Panel may make a preliminary decision upon receipt of written representations. Any preliminary decision shall be provided to the Architect and any complainant. It will include an invitation to submit written representations or further representations, which the Panel will take into account before a final decision is made on whether to refer the complaint (or part of it) to the Professional Conduct Committee ("PCC").
In coming to a decision, the Investigations Panel shall consider whether there is a case to answer, taking into account whether the evidence provides (a) a realistic prospect of a finding of unacceptable professional conduct and/or serious professional incompetence and (b) whether it is in the public interest for the case to proceed. Each case must be considered on its own merits, although the Investigations Panel may consider the following ‘public interest’ issues when considering whether there is a case to answer:
- The need to protect the public;
- Matters of health & safety;
- Any on-going risk, or the risk of repetition of the alleged failings;
- The degree of impact of the alleged misconduct/ incompetence on the client;
- The complainant’s circumstances e.g. particular vulnerability or ignorance of the building industry;
- Whether there are other avenues of redress e.g. through Alternative Dispute Resolution;
- Issues of professional practice that need to be considered by the PCC as a deterrent for other architects;
- Any recognition of failure or insight by the architect (although the position in respect of an architect being unable to admit liability when insurers are on notice should be kept in mind);
- The health of the architect (both at the time of the alleged misconduct/ incompetence and at the point of investigation) and whether relevant evidence of any issues has been provided.
The Investigations Panel will then decide whether the case:
- requires further investigation or advice;
- shall be referred to the Professional Conduct Committee by way of a report by the Presenter;
- requires cautionary advice, if appropriate, as to the Architect's future conduct and/or competence; or
- requires no further action.
Please look out for our next articles which discusses the Professional Conduct Committee process. If, in the meantime, you receive any indication of a complaint or notice that you may be subject to an investigation by the ARB, please do not hesitate to contact one of the RPC team.