High Court upholds decision of the Professional Conduct Committee
In a Judgment released on 16 August 2016, the High Court dismissed an appeal by architect Jemmie Williams against an erasure order imposed by the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) of the Architects Registration Board.
The background to the case was that Mr Williams had been convicted In July 2014 at the Inner London Crown Court of dishonestly making a false statement in order to obtain benefit, namely Jobseekers Allowance. He was sentenced to 150 hours of community service and ordered to pay compensation of £7926.14 to the Department of Work and Pensions.
At a hearing on 20 July 2015, which Mr Williams did not attend, the PCC found that the conviction did have material relevance to Mr Williams’ fitness to practise as an architect. It concluded that benefit fraud is a crime against society, the dishonesty had taken place over a prolonged period of time, and that this was a serious criminal offence of dishonesty and was fundamentally incompatible with Mr Williams continuing to be an architect. In these circumstances the PCC considered the only appropriate sanction was that of erasure from the Register of Architects.
At the appeal Mr Williams argued that the PCC had been wrong to proceed with the hearing in his absence; that his conviction had no relevance to his fitness to practise as an architect; that the PCC was wrong to consider the convciton as a lengthy course of action; that the proceedings should have taken place in private, and that the PCC had breached his human rights by publishing the sanction on the ARB website.
Mr Justice Blake found no merit in any of the claims. Mr Williams had been given a fair opportunity to attend the hearing, which was bound to proceed in public. His reliance on the European Convention on Human Rights was misconceived, and there is a longstanding principle that dishonest conduct is inconsistent with the standards to be expected of a professional. The erasure order imposed by the PCC was appropriate and inevitable.
The appeal was dismissed with costs awarded to ARB.
A copy of the High Court Judgment can be found here.
Notes for Editors
ARB is the statutory body established by Parliament under the Architects Act 1997 to regulate the UK architects’ profession in the public interest. The Act requires ARB (among other things) to:
· Maintain the Register of Architects (Section 3)
· Prescribe qualifications for entry to the Register of Architects (Section 4)
· Deal with competence to practise (Section 9)
· Issue a Code which lays down standards of professional conduct and practice (Section 13)
· Investigate allegations of unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence (Section 14)
· Regulate use of the title “architect” and prosecute those who use it unlawfully (Section 20)
The PCC is established under Schedule 1, Part II of the Architects Act and is required to consider any report referred to it. The Committee determines whether an architect is guilty of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence. Where a guilty finding is made, the Committee will consider whether to make a disciplinary order, which means:
· a reprimand
· a penalty order
· a suspension order (to a maximum of 2 years); or
· an erasure order
Under section 22 of the Architects Act 1997, any architect aggrieved at the making of a disciplinary order against them may appeal to the High Court. No appeal shall lie from any decision of the Court on such an appeal.
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