Professional Standards Guidance Note – Dealing with an unrepresented respondent
You should read this guidance note in conjunction with ‘Guidance for those representing themselves in front of the Professional Conduct Committee’.
Although the Professional Conduct Committee Rules have been drafted so they can be understood by anyone who hasn’t had legal training, for most architects the prospect of having to appear at a hearing will be a daunting experience.
The unrepresented respondent may be apprehensive or nervous about having to present a case before a Committee and this may show itself in apparently hostile, aggressive or even rude behaviour. Committee members – and particularly Chairs – need to be aware of this and should take all reasonable steps to put unrepresented architects at ease, including:
- being patient at all times and making appropriate use of adjournments;
- explaining what will happen in straightforward terms, avoiding legal jargon
- explaining what the architect may or may not do, why and when;
- trying to get the architect to identify the issues in dispute and ensuring that they have said what they feel they need to say;
- agreeing timescales for how long any particular stage is going to take;
- giving clear reasons for any intermediaterulings or decisions that are made.
Maintaining a fair balance
Unrepresented architects are unlikely to be familiar with law or procedure and, inparticular, the difference between presenting evidence and cross-examining witnesses. They should be allowed some leeway in presenting their case to ensure that they receive a fair hearing. This does not however mean that they should be allowed to exploit or abuse their lack ofrepresentation.
The Committee should ensure that an unrepresented respondent has every reasonableopportunity to make their case. For example, it may be necessary for theChair to help the respondent put a point to a witness in the form of a question.However, the Committee must be careful not to interfere in matters which must bedecided by the respondent alone, such as whether to admit or deny the charge(s) or choose whether or not to give evidence.Equally, while the Committee can help the respondent in presenting their defence, it must be careful not to act as their representative or damage the appearance of impartiality.
The Committee is expected to give clear procedural guidance in every case,but it is especially important to do so in cases where a respondent isunrepresented. As a minimum, the following should be explained to the architect:
- who the members of the Committee are and how they should be addressed;
- who the other people present are and their respective functions;
- theprocedure which the Committee will follow,
- thatthey will have the opportunity to present their case, so not to interrupt when someone else is speaking;
- that if they would like a short break in the proceedings at any timesuch a request is likely to be granted;
- that, if they do not understand something or have a problemabout the case, they should tell theCommittee so that it can be addressed.
A person who is unfamiliar with presenting evidence through cross-examination is likely to make statements to, rather thanasking questions of, witnesses and may adopt an unnecessarily confrontational approach to the questioning.If a question is asked, the witness must be given the opportunity to answer it in an appropriate manner.
Although such behaviour is unlikely to be deliberate, the Chair should protectwitnesses from questioning by an unrepresented architect which goes beyondthe acceptable limits of challenging their evidence through cross-examination.
Striking the right balance will often be difficult, butthe Chair must intervene as necessary to protect the interests ofboth the witness’s and the architect’s right to a fair hearing.
If the Committee makes a finding of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence, the respondent will be given an opportunity to speak in mitigation. The Chair should explain to the respondent that this is not a further opportunity to make points in defence, but to explain why the Committee should be lenient in its imposition of a penalty. The Chair should ensure that the architect has noted the contents of the Indicative Sanctions Guidance before addressing the Committee on this matter.