This note should be read in conjunction with the Guidance Note ‘What is a ‘case to answer’?’
Under Rule 7 of the Investigations Rules the role of the Investigations Panel (“the Panel”) is to decide whether allegations of unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence should be referred to the Professional Conduct Committee (“PCC”). The Panel will consider whether there is a case to answer – namely, whether the evidence provides a realistic prospect of a finding of unacceptable professional conduct and/or serious professional incompetence, and whether it is in the public interest for the case to proceed to the PCC.
Rule 9 of the Investigations Rules states
Before finalising its decision under Rule 7, the Investigations Panel will, as appropriate, invite written representations from the Registered Person in relation to whom a case is being considered and any complainant (the parties). Where it considers it appropriate to do so, the Investigations Panel may (in accordance with criteria set out in guidance published by the Board) make a preliminary decision in relation to the matter set out in Rule 7. Any preliminary decision shall be provided to the Registered Person and any complainant with an invitation to submit written representations or further representations to be taken into account before a final decision is made.
This guidance note provides the criteria which must be considered by the Panel when deciding whether to issue a preliminary decision, or reach a final decision without first inviting further representations.
Factors to be considered
Having considered the evidence available in support of the allegation, the Panel must decide whether to issue a preliminary or final decision.
Without intending to be exhaustive, in the following circumstances a preliminary decision is likely to be appropriate:
- The case is factually or evidentially complex;
- The evidence or submissions presented do not fully address the issues in the case;
- One or both parties have submitted material evidence or representations which the other has not yet had an opportunity to consider;
- The Panel has instructed an inquirer and/or sought legal advice during its deliberations;
- The Panel has been made aware of previous disciplinary findings or previous advice issued to the architect on matters of professional conduct. (Further advice on dealing with antecedents can be found in the guidance note ‘Consideration of antecedents by the Investigations Panel’);
- In any other circumstances where the panel is of the view that additional representations will assist it in its decision on case to answer.
Issuing only a final decision
The Panel may decide not to issue a preliminary decision where it is sure that further written representations will not change its decision under Rule 7.
This may be the appropriate course of action where, for example:
- the facts of the case are simple;
- the evidence disclosed by the parties comprehensively addresses the issues in the case;
- the parties have been afforded multiple opportunities to provide representations.
The Panel will approach this issue with caution. In the event of uncertainty, it is advisable to issue a preliminary decision and invite further submissions from the parties.