In dismissing an appeal against the decision of a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) of the Architect’s Registration Board, the High Court consider the obligations of architects when carrying out work under the Party Wall Act 1996.

Woodman-Smith v Architects Registration Board [2014] EWHC 3639 (Admin)

Judgment date: 7th November 2014

Facts

On 15 May 2014, the Appellant, Mr. Michael Woodman-Smith was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct by the Professional Conduct Committee of the Architect’s Registration Board (ARB) and a disciplinary order was made against him in the form of a reprimand. The originating complaint was made to the Board on 25 October 2012, by a solicitor on behalf on an individual complainant. The complaint related to the services performed by the Appellant after he accepted an instruction under the Party Wall Act 1996.

ARB Panel Conclusion

The underlying facts were complex and lengthy but were not in dispute. The allegations were that the appellant failed to enter into a written agreement with his client prior to undertaking professional work contrary to standard 4.4 of the Code. Secondly, that he failed to keep his client informed of any issues which may significantly affect the cost of the work contrary to standard 6.3 of the Code.

Issues/Submissions on appeal

The Appellant raised four issues on appeal:

  1. Whether the PCC had jurisdiction to hear the complaint against the Appellant on the grounds that he had cancelled his registration by written notification on 31 December 2013.
  2. Whether the Code (and in particular Standard 4.4) applied to the Appellant’s work as a party wall surveyor.
  3. Whether the PCC erred in finding that the Appellant’s  breach of the Code amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.
  4. Whether the sanction imposed by the PCC on the Appellant was excessive.
  5. Appeal decision

Judge Silber (sitting as a High Court Judge) dismissed each of the Appellant’s submissions on the following grounds;

  1. S.3(3) of the Architects Act 1997 states that “The Registrar shall make any necessary alterations to the Register and, in particular, shall remove from the Register the name of any registered person who has died or has applied in the prescribed manner requesting the removal; of his name.” However the Court found that whilst this may be the case, the Act does not provide for what shall constitute the “prescribed manner”, nor does it state when the Registrar must make such alterations.

Rule 19 of the General Rules provides that “Removal may be deferred where allegations of unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence are outstanding.” The court considered that the Register identified the Appellant as a “registered” person at the time of the disciplinary proceedings, and accordingly the PCC had jurisdiction to pursue the allegations against him. In any case, the Appellant waived his resignation and wish for removal from the Register; by participating in and contesting the proceedings, by continuing to take all the advantages of being a “registered person” and by holding himself out as a “registered person” after the date of purported resignation.

  1. Whilst there are differences between the conventional work of an architect and work conducted under the jurisdiction of the Party Wall Act 1996, the client in both cases has a genuine and crucial interest in knowing the extent of their financial exposure and what services they will receive in return, thus enabling them to make an informed decision when engaging the professional’s services. Consequently, the Court held that the core obligation in paragraph 4.4 of the Code must be complied with when a registered architect is acting in a matter concerning the Party Wall Act 1996.
  2. The Court further considered that the Appellant’s criticism of the decision of the PCC failed to succeed by a large margin. Judge Silber, citing Ward LJ in Assicurazioni General SpA v Arab Insurance Group [2003] 1 WLR 577, was mindful of the well-established principle that the Court will be reluctant to interfere with findings of fact unless persuaded they exceeded “the generous ambit within which reasonable disagreement about the conclusion to be drawn from the evidence is possible”.
  3. ​The Court was unable to find that the PCC erred in imposing a reprimand due to the PCC taking into account the previous good record of the Appellant, his work in preserving and conserving architecture, his integrity, the lack of financial gain and his sincere interest in the client. Furthermore, the PCC made clear that the purpose of this sanction was not punitive. Lastly, the Court appreciated that it would require a very strong case to interfere with sentence as the Disciplinary Committee are best placed to conduct the sentencing exercise in relation to matters of professional misconduct.

Given the rationale behind the requirement to keep clients informed of any issues which may significantly affect the cost of work, namely to safeguard clients, the Court found that it applies just as equally to work carried out under the Party Wall Act, as it does to more conventional architectural work.