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Professional Standards Guidance Note – Indicative Sanctions Guidance

Introduction

We have developed this guidance to assist the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC).  It is intended to guide the PCC in considering what sanction, if any, to impose on an architect following a finding of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence.  It also applies when an architect is convicted of a criminal offence which has material relevance to their fitness to practise.

 

It outlines the decision-making process and draws from an analysis of previous PCC cases. A number of the more recent cases are available on the PCC decisions page.

 

PCC members are expected to exercise their own judgment in making decisions and each case will turn on its own facts.  Nevertheless, this guidance will be relied on for purposes of consistency.It was adopted by the Committee on 20 October 2011.

 

The purpose of sanctions

The primary purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive, but to protect members of the public, to maintain the integrity of the profession, and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and competence.

 

Sanctions

If an architect is found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct, serious professional conduct or convicted of a relevant criminal offence, the PCC must decide what (if any) sanction should be imposed. Under the Architects Act 1997 (the Act) the sanctions available to the PCC are:

 

Reprimand

Penalty order (up to £2500 per charge, with a maximum of 2 charges)

Suspension (to a maximum of two years)

Erasure

 

There is judicial guidance on the method of imposing sanctions, as follows.

 

“It is necessary for a Panel, when considering the appropriate sanction, to work from the bottom up, if I may put it that way, that is to say to consider the least penalty and to ask itself whether that is sufficient, and, if not, then to go to the next one, and so on. Thus they go from taking no action and merely recording a serious professional misconduct finding through a reprimand, the imposition of conditions, suspension, and the final sanction of erasure.’”

Raschid v General Medical Council [2006] EWHC 886 (Admin) Collins, J.

 

The Act does not require the PCC to impose a sanction in every case where a guilty finding is reached, so the PCC may choose to make no disciplinary order.

 

Reprimands

Where the PCC decides that it is appropriate to impose a sanction in relation to a guilty finding, a reprimand is the least severe sanction that can be applied. It may be used in relation to offences at the lower end of the scale of seriousness, where and when it would be appropriate to mark the conduct or competence of an architect as being unacceptable.

 

This sanction may be considered where the following factors are present (this list is not exhaustive):

 

–              Evidence that the conduct or competence has not seriously affected clients/the public

–              Insight into failings

–              Genuine expression of regret

–              Corrective steps taken

–              Previous good disciplinary history

 

Like all disciplinary orders, a reprimand will remain permanently on an architect’s record, but will only be publicised for two years after the date of sanction.

 

Penalty orders

Penalty orders are fines of up to level 4 on the standard scale of fines for summary offences, currently set at £2,500. Only one penalty order can be issued per charge, and under the Act only two charges can be brought (unacceptable professional conduct and/or serious professional incompetence).  However, there is no limit on the number of allegations that can be brought under each charge.  It may be used for offences which are too serious to warrant a reprimand, or where a lack of remorse or understanding is displayed.

 

This sanction may be considered where the following factors are present (this list is not exhaustive):

 

  • Offence is too serious to warrant a reprimand
  • Limited or lack of remorse
  • Architect has benefitted financially from the offence

 

The PCC will specify the period within which the sum must be paid.  Where an architect fails to satisfy the order, a suspension or erasure order may be substituted instead. A penalty order is publicised for two years after the date of sanction.

 

Suspension orders

The PCC may impose a suspension order foroffences which are serious, but not so grave that they warrant erasure from the Register. Suspensions are for a maximum period of two years and the architect is automatically reinstated to the Register at the end of the suspension period. An architect who is suspended from the Register cannot use the title “architect” in business or practice for the duration of the suspension.

 

This sanction may be considered where the following factors are present (this list is not exhaustive):

 

  • An offence so serious that a reprimand or penalty order would be insufficient either to protect the public or the reputation of the profession
  • Behaviour that is not necessarily incompatible with continuing to be an architect
  • No evidence of entrenched integrity issues

–              The PCC is satisfied that the behaviour is unlikely to be repeated

–              Conduct capable of being rectified

–              Non-payment of a previously imposed penalty order

 

A suspension order is publicised for the period of suspension and for a further two years from the date of reinstatement.

 

Erasure orders

An erasure order may be imposed by the PCC for those offences that are so serious that only removal from the Register will protect the public and/or the reputation of the profession.  While erasure from the Register is the most severe sanction that the PCC can apply, an architect may apply to ARB to re-enter the Register after two yearshave passed following the erasure order.  The PCC may make a recommendation for a minimum period of time before such an application should be considered.

 

This sanction may be considered where the following factors are present (this list is not exhaustive):

 

  • A serious criminal offence
  • Behaviour that is fundamentally incompatible with continuing to be an architect
  • The PCC lacking confidence that a repeat offence will not occur
  • Dishonesty or a severe lack of integrity
  • A persistent lack of insight into the seriousness of actions or consequences
  • Non-payment of a previously imposed penalty order

 

Any individual erased from the Register is not permitted to use the title “architect” in business or practice [nor any reference to membership or fellowship of RIBA] for as long as the erasure period applies.  An erasure order is publicised for a period of five years after the date of sanction.

 

Criminal convictions

Architects will be referred to the PCC when they have been convicted of a criminal offence that is relevant to their fitness to practise as an architect. The architect cannot argue the facts of the matter that led to the conviction, but can make submissions as to why no further or a more lenient sanction should be made by the PCC.

 

The purpose of a hearing in relation to a conviction is not to punish the architect a second time for the same offence, but to protect the public and maintain the collective reputation and integrity of the profession.

 

As noted in the following:

 

“The reputation of the profession is more important than the fortunes of any individual member.”

(Bingham L.R) Bolton v Law Society [1994]

 

Mitigation

The PCC shall have due regard to any evidence presented in mitigation by or on behalf of the architect. This could include evidence of a good disciplinary history, remedial steps to prevent the offence recurring and an acknowledgement of, and remorse for, their behaviour.  Testimonials and references should be weighed appropriately against the nature of the offence, and the Committee will give due consideration to the availability of references.

 

Mitigating Factors Aggravating Factors
Isolated incident Pattern of poor conduct/competence
Little or no damage to others Substantial loss to clients
Insight into behaviour Refusal or inability to acknowledge failings
Acted under duress Failure to engage with the disciplinary process constructively
Contrition and remorse

 

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