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Disciplinary investigations against architects #5 - Referral to Professional Conduct Committee

16 February 2021. Published by Emma Wherry, Senior Associate and Sarah O'Callaghan, Associate

Further to our previous four articles detailing the stages of the Architect Registration Board's (ARB) disciplinary process up to the Investigations Panel Stage, this article considers the steps that are taken by the ARB in order to refer the matter to the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) and the steps that an Architect may wish to take to prepare for that hearing.

The most important practical point is for architects to be aware of the tight timescales that apply from receipt of a report from the ARB's solicitor.

If the Investigations Panel concludes that the Architect may have breached the Code of Conduct and has a "case to answer" in respect of unacceptable professional conduct (UPC) or serious professional incompetence (SPI), the ARB will refer the matter to the Professional Conduct Committee. This is, obviously, a worrying development for any architect.

The Presenter's Report sets out the factual background to the matter, details the particulars of the charge – i.e. the specific actions that the ARB alleges amounts to SPI or UPC with references to the elements of the Code that it considers has been breached. It will usually exhibit copies of relevant documents and confirm what witness or expert evidence the ARB intends to rely upon.

On receipt of the Presenter's Report, three members of the PCC will be identified to hear that case. This will always include an Architect, for their technical expertise, and a lay member, so that there is an opinion from a member of the public, as well as a legally qualified Chair. The ARB aims to list PCC hearings within 28 weeks from the conclusion of the Investigations Panel process.

The Presenter's Report will be served on the Architect not less than 49 days before the date of the hearing, with any supplemental evidence relied upon by the ARB to be provided 35 days before the date of the hearing.

The timescales on receipt of a Presenter's Report are tight. An Architect must confirm whether the charge is admitted or denied, along with brief particulars of their defence within 21 days of receiving the Report. Architects would therefore be well advised to seek legal advice at an early stage of the proceedings to ensure that they are in a position to respond within these timescales.  As we have suggested previously, architects should also check if they have insurance in place that will cover the cost of this legal advice.

It may be necessary to undertake further investigations including identifying and interviewing witnesses, procuring expert evidence and to consider the impact of the proposed response on any ongoing or potential professional negligence claim before being in a position to formally respond to the charges.

An Architect has an opportunity to make further, more detailed, submissions in their defence which must be submitted no later than 21 days before the PCC hearing. These will often include a lengthier defence setting out the legal position in relation to the allegations,  witness evidence and testimonials. An Architect may also wish to rely on expert evidence. Given the potential ramifications for an Architect's career and business of an adverse decision by the PCC, it is important to present the best possible case.

Please look out for our next article which discusses the Professional Conduct Committee hearing itself.  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.

Catch up on previous articles in the series:

(1) Disciplinary investigations against architects the process

(2) Disciplinary investigations against architects complaints to the arb

(3) Disciplinary investigations against architects the review stage

(4) Disciplinary investigations against architects investigations panel stage