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Disciplinary investigations against architects #1 - the process

19 December 2019. Published by Ben Goodier, Partner and Sarah O'Callaghan, Senior Associate and Emma Wherry, Senior Associate

In this series of articles, we explain the procedure for disciplinary investigations against architects. This article gives an overview of the process. The remaining articles will examine each stage of the process and highlight the dos and don'ts for architects unfortunate enough to be the subject of investigations. In essence, there are 4 stages.

1. Complaints to the ARB 

In the first instance, someone will need to complain to the Architects Registration Board ("ARB"). The ARB's Annual Report for 2018, published on 24 September 2019, reported an increase in the number of formal complaints received against architects, rising from 136 in 2017 to 174 in 2018. That said architects can take heart as only 48 of these complaints led to a formal investigation. 

In certain circumstances, the Registrar may also instigate an investigation without a complaint from a member of the public if they become aware of a potential contravention of the ARB Code of Conduct – for example an Architect is declared bankrupt but fails to notify the ARB or is convicted of a criminal offence. 

2. The Review Stage

The ARB will review any complaint to assess if it meets their standard of acceptance. The ARB requires that it must be possible to (1) identify the Architect from the complaint (2) that there is sufficient detail for the Architect to understand the allegation and (3) that there is credible evidence suggesting an Architect may not have met the standard required by the Code of Conduct. Not every failure warrants further investigation. 

The ARB has a 16 week target to conduct this review.  If it decides the case does not meet the standard of acceptance the process ends here. 

3. The Investigations Panel Stage 

If the matter is referred to the Investigations Panel ("the IP") Stage the ARB then considers whether there is sufficient factual evidence to support the complaint. They have a 12 week target to do so. At this point an Architect will be offered the opportunity to respond to the allegations. The initial response to the ARB is crucial.  We will provide further insight on this when we expand on "the Investigations Stage" in this series of articles.  However, we strongly recommend that Insurers are notified and legal advice is taken at this stage as this is where we have seen most problems arise that cannot be unpicked at a later date.  

The role of the Investigations Panel is to determine whether there is evidence of unacceptable professional conduct and/ or serious professional incompetence which merits referral to the Professional Conduct Committee ("PCC"). In deciding whether the matter merits referral to the PCC, the IP must consider whether there is a "realistic prospect" of a finding of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence, and also be satisfied it is in the public interest for the case to succeed. If not, they may simply decide to issue advice about possible future conduct.

4. Professional Conduct Committee

If the IP determines that the matter should be referred to the PCC, the Board Solicitor will be instructed to prepare a report on behalf of the ARB setting out the charge the Architect is required to respond to. This will be served on the Architect and they will be asked to confirm whether it is admitted or denied.  

The ARB has a 28 week target to choose a date for a hearing.  This is a formal public hearing, in front of three PCC panel members, usually with the Complainant in attendance. 

If having heard the evidence the PCC is satisfied that the Architect is guilty of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence, a sanction will be imposed.  If there is not, then the charge will be found not proven and the process will end there.  

The sanctions available to the PCC are:

  • Reprimand
  • Penalty Order (a fine) of up to £2,500 for each offence
  • Suspension (up to 2 years)
  • Erasure

This process is extremely stressful for architects. Please look out for our guide to each of the stages which will follow this introductory article.  If, in the meantime, you receive any indication of a complaint, please do not hesitate to contact one of the RPC team.

The ARB timeline can be found here

Click here to read article #2 in the series, Disciplinary investigations against architects #2 - complaints to the ARB