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Mr Ronald Tasker

THE ARCHITECTS REGISTRATION BOARD

PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT COMMITTEE

In the matter of

Mr Ronald Tasker (040605H)

held on

24 February 2014

at

ARB

8 Weymouth Street

London

           W1W 5BU

                  —————–

Present:

Mr Julian Weinberg (Chair)

Mr Roger Wilson (PCC Architect Member)

Mrs Barbara Saunders (PCC Lay Member)

Mr Stephen Battersby (Clerk to the PCC)

—————–

 

Mr Jonathan Goodwin of Jonathan Goodwin Solicitor Advocate Ltd appeared on behalf of the ARB.

Mr Tasker did not attend the hearing and was not represented.

 

  1. The ARB is represented by Mr Jonathan Goodwin. Mr Tasker has not attended this hearing and is not represented. Mr Tasker faces one charge of unacceptable professional conduct based on 4 allegations relating to conduct allegedly in breach of standards 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice 2010 (“the Code”).

 

  1. No preliminary applications were made.

 

  1. As Mr Tasker is not present, the Committee first considered whether Mr Tasker has been duly served with notice of this hearing. The Committee has noted that notice of hearing was sent to Mr Tasker on 16 December 2013, i.e. more than 42 days before this hearing, and that the letter complies with the requirements of Rule 6 of the Professional Conduct Committee Rules. The Committee has heard and accepted the advice of the Clerk and is satisfied that notice has been given in accordance with the Rules.

 

  1. The Committee went on to consider whether, in the circumstances and given the background to this case, it was appropriate for the proceedings to continue in the Respondent’s absence. It has applied Rule 11 of the Rules and the principles set out by the Court of Appeal in R v Jones (Anthony William) [2003] 1 AC 1 and the factors set out in Tait v. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons [2003] UKPC 34.

 

  1. The Committee has exercised the utmost care and caution in reaching its decision, and has carefully considered the overall fairness of the proceedings. The Committee has taken into account the factors to be considered in the decision inJones. In considering this application, the Committee has balanced the potential impact on the Respondent in hearing the matter today in his absence, as against the public interest in proceeding with the hearing in a timely manner. The Committee has had sight of a number of letters, emails and telephone attendance notes from which it is apparent that Mr Tasker had received notice of the hearing. He had stated that he would be out of the country. Whilst he disputed the allegations and despite stating that he would consider applying for an adjournment of the hearing, he did not do so in spite of being sent six reminders from the ARB that he should indicate whether he would be attending or whether he would make such an application. The Committee saw no evidence that led it to conclude that by adjourning the matter, the Respondent would attend the hearing on any future date. In addition, the Respondent has not produced evidence that he was indeed out of the country, or if he was, when his trip was booked or for how long he would be abroad. No representative has been instructed to act on his behalf and he has not submitted any written representations or returned the Acknowledgement of Hearing form. Taking all these factors into account, the Committee has concluded that the Respondent has been given an adequate opportunity to appear before the Committee to argue his case and that he has provided no sufficient reason for his non-attendance. As such, it has concluded that, having voluntarily absented himself from this hearing, it is proper to hear the case in his absence in accordance with Rule 11.

 

  1. The allegations follow a complaint to ARB dated 31 October 2012 by Ms Jeanette Gray, Assistant Secretary to the Deacons Court of Glasgow Evangelical Church (‘the Complainant”) that, many years ago, the Respondent visited the church, and, having been shown the original drawings, asked if he could borrow them to study them. Permission was given on the strict understanding that they would be returned in due course. He was not instructed as an Architect to provide any professional services. However, despite numerous requests subsequently being made for the return of the drawings, the Respondent has failed to return them.

 

  1. The Complainant subsequently referred the matter to the ARB who entered into correspondence with the Respondent who failed to respond to its numerous letters, including a request that he provide evidence of his professional indemnity insurance. It is alleged that to date, no response has been received from the Respondent.

 

  1. During the course of the ARB’s investigations, enquiry agents instructed by the ARB to locate the Respondent’s whereabouts, ascertained that the Respondent had been made the subject of a bankruptcy order which had not been previously reported to the ARB.

 

  1. Whilst he has indicated in his email dated 9 February 2014 to the ARB that he disputes the allegations, no information has been received from the Respondent for the basis upon which the allegations are denied, or the reason for denying that his actions amount to unacceptable professional conduct. In reaching its decisions, the Committee has carefully considered the documentary evidence presented to it in the Report of the ARB’s Solicitor together with the 54 pages of documents exhibited to it and two further letters from the Glasgow Evangelical Church, from Jeanette Gray dated 16 November 2011 and 21 August 2011 and from Daniel Houston dated 2 February 2014. No live evidence has been presented to the Committee.

 

  1. The Committee has heard and accepted the legal advice given by the Clerk. It has had regard to the fact that the burden of proof in this case is on the ARB and that the civil standard applies, namely proof on the balance of probabilities. Whether the conduct alleged amounts to unacceptable professional conduct is a matter for the Committee’s judgement.

 

The Committee makes the following finding of facts:

 

  1. Allegation 1.1: The Committee finds this allegation proved for the following reasons.

 

  1. The Committee has had sight of the three letters written by the Complainant to the Respondent dated 21 September and 12 December 2011 and 19 April 2012 requesting the return of the plans. It is clear from those letters that the Respondent had failed to return them as requested. The Committee has seen no evidence that the plans have been returned. Whist the request for the return of the plans was not made within the context of the Respondent being instructed to undertake professional work, the Committee is satisfied that the essence of the latter two letters is such that they amount to a complaint that the papers have not been returned, albeit it, that the letters are written in measured terms. The letter dated 21 September cannot in itself be considered to be a complaint given that it represents the original request for the papers’ return. However, the complaint made to the ARB is that the Respondent failed to respond to these letters and it was this complaint that was brought to the Respondent’s attention by a letter dated 9 November 2012 from the ARB who asked the Respondent to deal with the complaint directly with Ms Gray. Mr Tasker did not do so and as such, the Committee is satisfied that the Respondent’s actions are in breach of standard 10.2 of the Code. The Committee further finds that, by failing to respond to a legitimate request from the Complainant, he acted in such a way so as to bring either himself or the profession into disrepute contrary to standard 9.2 of the Code.

 

  1. Allegations 1.2 and 1.3: The Committee finds these allegations proved for the following reasons:

 

  1. In order to investigate the complaint made to the ARB by a letter dated 31 October 2012, the ARB wrote to the Respondent on 10 January, 5 February, 6 March, 13 June, 18 June, 6 August and 22 August 2013. Of these letters, only the letters dated 10 January and 5 February 2013 required the Respondent to reply (within 14 and 7 days respectively). The contact on 6 March was sent by email and the documentary evidence before this Committee indicates that that email was undelivered and that it had “permanently failed”. In the circumstances, no criticism can be made of the Respondent for failing to respond to it since the evidence would suggest that the email had not been delivered. The remaining letters only ask the Respondent to make a response should he wish to do so. Again the Respondent cannot be criticised for failing to respond to letters where a response is optional and there is no obligation to do so. However, the Committee finds that insofar as the Respondent failed to reply to the ARB’s letters of 10 January and 5 February 2013, the Respondent has failed to cooperate fully and promptly with the ARB either within the specified time scale or at all when asked to provide information which it needs to carry out its statutory duties.

 

  1. In addition, the ARB’s letter dated 10 January 2013 requested the Respondent to provide evidence of his current professional indemnity insurance to which, the ARB allege, no response was received. The Committee has seen no evidence that the Respondent has provided such a response. In the circumstances, the Committee finds that the Respondent failed to respond to that request and as a result, he has breached standards 8.4 and 9.6 of the Code.

 

  1. Allegation 1.4: The Committee finds this allegation proved for the following reasons:

 

  1. On 18 July 2013, enquiry agents instructed by the ARB to ascertain the whereabouts of the Respondent (who had not replied to its letters) confirmed that Mr Tasker was still residing at the address to which all correspondence had been sent. They informed the ARB that a bankruptcy order against the Respondent was made on 9 November 2010 and discharged 12 months later. The ARB’s solicitor’s report contains documentary evidence of the bankruptcy order. It is the ARB’s case that the fact of the bankruptcy order was not notified to it when required to do so and the Committee has seen no evidence that that was done. By failing to do so, the Committee finds that the Respondent has acted in breach of standard 9.2 of the Code.

 

  1. Having found these facts proved and having determined that the Respondent has breached a number of standards of the Code, the Committee went on to consider whether Mr Tasker’s conduct amounts to unacceptable professional conduct. This is defined as conduct which falls short of the standard required of a registered person. In reaching its finding, the Committee has carefully considered all the evidence presented to it, all submissions made and has accepted the advice from the Clerk. The Committee recognises that not every shortcoming on the part of an Architect, nor failure to comply with the provisions of the Code, will necessarily give rise to disciplinary proceedings. However, a failure to follow the guidance of the Code, whether in one’s professional or private life, is a factor that will be taken into account should it be necessary to examine the conduct or competence of an Architect.

 

  1. The matters found proved represent failings both in respect of the Respondent’s relationships with third parties and his regulator. They are serious failings and are aggravated by the fact that they continued over a lengthy period of time. As such, the Committee finds that the Respondent’s actions represent a serious departure from the standard expected of a registered architect. The Committee therefore finds that the Respondent’s conduct does amount to unacceptable professional conduct.

 

  1. In considering whether to impose a sanction, the Committee has had regard to the public interest, which includes the need to protect the public, to maintain confidence in the profession and the ARB and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour. The Committee has carefully considered all the evidence and submissions made during the course of this hearing. It has heard and accepted the advice of the Clerk. It has borne in mind that the purpose of imposing a sanction is not to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. It has taken into account Mr Tasker’s interests, the indicative sanctions guidance and the need to act proportionately, taking into account all the aggravating and mitigating factors in this case. In doing so, the Committee has exercised its own independent judgement.

 

  1. The Committee has borne in mind that no adverse regulatory findings have been made against the Respondent. However, the Committee has identified the following aggravating factors:

 

  1. That by failing to engage with the regulatory process, Mr Tasker has neither demonstrated any insight into his failings, nor has he expressed remorse for his actions and omissions;
  2. He has not provided any references or testimonials;
  3. He repeatedly failed to respond to legitimate correspondence from the Complainant having failed to return the plans after a very lengthy period of time. The Committee has seen evidence that the Church suffered unwarranted financial loss of approximately £3500 as a result;
  4. He repeatedly failed to respond to correspondence from his regulator. This included providing evidence of his professional indemnity insurance. Compliance with the ARB is essential to ensure that the profession is effectively regulated;
  5. His failure to respond to correspondence or engage with the ARB continued for over 18 months;
  6. He disregarded his professional obligations to notify the ARB that he had been made bankrupt;
  7. Mr Tasker was given every opportunity to resolve the matter prior to it escalating into disciplinary action, but he failed to take any step to do so.

 

  1. The Committee notes that the matters found proved are serious in that Mr Tasker’s failings diminish both his reputation, and that of the profession generally. As a result, the Committee concluded that his conduct was sufficiently serious for it to require the imposition of a sanction and has considered them in ascending order of severity.

 

  1. The Committee first considered whether to impose a reprimand and has concluded that, given the seriousness of the matters found proved, and the breadth of his failings, that this would be a wholly inappropriate sanction to protect the public interest. Similarly, the Committee considers a penalty order to be inappropriate for the same reasons.

 

  1. The Committee then considered whether to impose a suspension order. However, the Committee considers that the extent and nature of the Respondent’s unacceptable professional conduct is such that his conduct is fundamentally incompatible with continuing to be a registered architect. His complete failure to meet his professional obligations towards both the Church and the ARB as identified in this case, together with the absence of demonstrable insight into his failings are, in the Committee’s view, indicative of behaviour, fundamentally incompatible with continuing to be an architect. Furthermore, it calls into question his willingness to comply with his professional obligations in the future. As such, the Committee does not have confidence that his failings will not reoccur. Taken in the round, he has shown a wholesale disregard for his professional obligations. His lack of insight into the seriousness and consequences of his failings in his dealings with both the Church and the ARB are further factors the Committee has borne in mind in reaching its decision.

 

  1. The Committee therefore concluded that a suspension order would not be the appropriate and proportionate sanction to impose and that only an erasure order would meet these criteria. The Committee makes no recommendation as to the minimum period of time that must elapse before he is eligible to apply for re-entry to the profession.

 

That concludes this determination.

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