Professional Standards Guidance Note – Concurrent Court Proceedings
This guidance relates to any application to stay (suspend) ARB’s investigations into the conduct or competence of an architect when there are concurrent court proceedings.
As a public body, it is important that we conduct our investigations in a timely way. It is in the interests of both the public and the architect concerned that we consider and resolve a complaint about an architect as quickly as possible.
As a general principle, it may be appropriate for us to suspenda regulatory investigation if the architect is being tried for related criminal charges at the same time. It will be a rarer occurrence to put an investigation on hold simply because the parties concerned are involved in civil proceedings.
Concurrent criminal proceedings
A potential injustice may arise if we continue an investigation at thesame time as a related criminal trial. As rules of evidence are more restrictive in criminal proceedings, there is a risk that evidence which has not beenadmitted at that trial may become public as a result of ourinvestigation. For that reason, we are likely to postpone an investigation until any related criminal trial has concluded.
In addition, if the architect is cleared of any wrongdoing in the criminal courts it does not mean that we will not conduct our own investigation, as the reason for the acquittal may have no bearing on the regulatory proceedings. For example, an architect’s conductmay be found to be lawful, but it could still fall below the standards we expect of architects.
Concurrent civil proceedings
There may be a case for a regulator to put an investigation on hold voluntarily until the outcome of any civil proceedings is known. The civil litigation might be more likely to arrive at the truth than the regulatory proceedings, because the court has more power to order disclosure or to hear evidence under oath. If evidence can be obtained speedily and more effectively by this route, then it might be more appropriate to defer the regulatory action.
However, the courts have shown a marked reluctance to suspend regulatory proceedings when asked to do soby parties involved in a concurrent civil action. As was stated in R v Executive Counsel of the Joint Disciplinary Scheme:
“Regulatory investigations and disciplinary proceedings perform importantfunctions in our society. Furthermore, the days have gone when the HighCourt could fairly regard the proceedings of disciplinary tribunals asnecessarily providing second class justice”.
Following the advice of this and subsequent decisions, the factors that we will take into account when considering any application to suspend an investigationare:
- any decision to suspend an investigation will be exercised sparingly and with great care; and
- unless a party can show a real risk of prejudice if a stay is refused , then that application will be refused.
Even in those instances where webelieve there is risk of serious prejudice, we must still balance this against other considerations, in particular, the public interest that the disciplinary process is not impeded. In doing so, we will takeinto account both the seriousness of the allegation(s) and the weight of the evidence presented in making a decision.