Mr Glen David Eldridge
THE ARCHITECTS REGISTRATION BOARD
PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT COMMITTEE
In the matter of
Mr Glen David Eldridge 061299E
Held on 10 – 11 February 2020
International Dispute Resolution Centre
70 Fleet Street
Paul Housego (Chair)
David Kann (PCC Architect Member)
Martin Pike (PCC Lay Member)
In this case, the ARB is represented by Ms Kathryn Sheridan of Kingsley Napley LLP.
Mr Glen David Eldridge has neither attended this hearing nor is he represented.
|The Professional Conduct Committee (“PCC”) found Mr Eldridge guilty of unacceptable professional conduct (“UPC”) in that he:
I. Did not pay planning application fees;
and that by doing so, he acted in breach of Standards 1.1, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 7.4, 8.1, 8.4, 9.1, 9.2, 10.2, 11.1 of the Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice 2017 (“the Code”).
The sanction imposed is erasure.
Charge and allegations:
1. Mr Eldridge (“the Respondent”) was charged by the Architects Registration Board (“ARB”) with unacceptable professional conduct (“UPC”), and the Professional Conduct Committee (“the Committee”) is responsible for deciding whether that allegation is found proved, or not.
2. The matters asserted by the ARB to have occurred and which it is said amount (if proved) to UPC are the following (with the provisions of the Architects Code 2017 (“the Code”) said to have been breached in brackets):
Complaint by Mr W:
1. The Respondent did not pay planning application fees; (6.1)
2. The Respondent failed to carry out work without undue delay; (6.2)
3. The Respondent did not keep his client informed about the progress of the work; (6.3)
4. The Respondent did not deal with a complaint about their professional work appropriately; (10.2)
5. The Respondent acted dishonestly and/or¹ without integrity in that he knowingly used client money to pay a third party and/or a personal debt, despite informing the client that their funds had been submitted to the Council on their behalf. (1.1, 7.4, 9.1 & 9.2)
Complaint by the Registrar:
6. The Respondent did not cooperate fully and promptly with the Regulator; (11.1)
7. The Respondent did not report the liquidation of his company to the regulator, contrary to standard 9.2 of the Architects Code; (9.2)
8. The Respondent did not hold adequate and appropriate insurance and/or did not provide evidence of that insurance to the regulator. (8.1 & 8.4)
Complaint by Mr H
9. The Respondent did not pay planning application fees; (6.1)
10. The Respondent failed to carry out work without undue delay; (6.2)
11. The Respondent did not deal with a complaint about their professional work appropriately; (10.2)
12. The Respondent acted dishonestly and/or without integrity in that he accepted funds from the complainant for work which was not undertaken; (1.1, 9.1 & 9.2)
13. The Respondent acted dishonestly and/or without integrity in that he knowingly used client money to pay a third party and/or² a personal debt. (1.1, 7.4, 9.1 & 9.2)
The relevant provisions of the Code state:-
Honesty and Integrity
1. You are expected at all times to act with honesty and integrity and to avoid any actions or situations which are inconsistent with your professional obligations. This standard underpins the Code and will be taken to be required in any consideration of your conduct under any of the other standards.
You should carry out your professional work faithfully and conscientiously and with due regard to relevant technical and professional standards
1. You are expected to carry out your work promptly and with skill and care and in accordance with the terms of your engagement.
2. You should carry out your professional work without undue delay and, so far (as) is reasonably practicable, in accordance with any time-scale and cost limits agreed with your client.
3. You are expected to keep your client informed of the progress of work undertaken on their behalf and of any issue which may significantly affect its quality or cost.
4. You should, when acting between parties or giving advice, exercise impartial and independent professional judgment. If you are to act as both architect and contractor you should make it clear in writing that your advice will no longer be impartial.
Trustworthiness and safeguarding clients’ money
4. You should ensure that money is not withdrawn from a client account to make a payment unless it is made to or on behalf of a client on the client’s specific written instructions
1. You are expected to have adequate and appropriate insurance cover for you, your practice and your employees. You should ensure that your insurance is adequate to meet a claim, whenever it is made. You are expected to maintain a minimum level of cover, including run-off cover, in accordance with the Board’s guidance.
4. You are expected to provide evidence that you have met the standards expected of this Standard in such form as the Board may require.
Maintaining the reputation of architects
1. You should ensure that your professional finances are managed responsibly.
2. You are expected to conduct yourself in a way which does not bring either yourself or the profession into disrepute. If you find yourself in a position where you know that you have fallen short of these standards, or that your conduct could reflect badly on the profession, you are expected to report the matter to the Board. For example, you should notify the Registrar within 28 days if you:
- are convicted of a criminal offence;
- are made the subject of a court order disqualifying you from acting as a company director;
- are made the subject of a bankruptcy order;
- are a director of a company which is wound up (other than for amalgamation or reconstruction purposes);³
- make an accommodation with creditors (including a voluntary arrangement);
- fail to pay a judgment debt.
Deal with disputes or complaints appropriately
2. Complaints should be handled courteously and promptly at every stage; and as far as practicable in accordance with the following time scales:
a) That their evidence is not the sole or decisive evidence in relation to matters of fact that need to be determined;
b) That Complainant 8 had always stated that she would be unwilling to attend the hearing. The Respondent had the opportunity to object to her statement being tendered, but has not done so;
Co-operation with regulatory requirements and investigations
1. You are expected to co-operate fully and promptly with the Board, and within any specified timescale, if it asks you to provide information which it needs to carry out its statutory duties, including evidence that you are complying with these Standards.
3. Two Clients (Mr W and Mr H) of the Respondent complained to the ARB about him at about the same time. In both cases he had asked for money for fees for planning applications, and in one case towards a structural engineer’s fee, and the clients had paid money to him (with other money for his own fees), but he had not paid those planning fees to the relevant authority, nor paid the structural engineer. They did not feel he dealt with their complaints, so they complained to the ARB. The Respondent did not provide to the ARB details of his insurance as required, did not respond in a time frame the ARB felt was reasonable. In dealing with the matters raised by the clients the ARB became aware that the limited company through which he had practised had been put into liquidation in 2012, and had been dissolved in 2017. He had not notified the ARB of this. When he did reply to the ARB the Respondent said that he had personal problems at the time, and that when he received the money from the clients he made payments to someone who was demanding money from him (with menaces and as blackmail according to the Respondent).
Burden and standard of proof
4. The ARB is required to prove the allegations to the civil standard; that it is more likely than not that any event occurred. That is a single unwavering standard of proof, though the more unlikely an allegation the more cogent the evidence required to prove it. There is no requirement for the Respondent to prove anything. The Committee has in mind throughout its deliberations that the right to practise a profession is involved in these proceedings and proceeds upon the basis that the Human Rights Act 1998 will apply. In particular the Respondent has the right to a fair trial and to respect for his private and family life under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as incorporated within UK law by that Act. The question of whether or not any facts found proved amount to UPC is a matter for the Committee’s judgment, and there is no burden of proof. A finding of UPC requires the Committee to judge that conduct to be serious. The test for dishonesty applied by the Committee is that laid down by the Supreme Court in Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd t/a Crockfords  UKSC 67. First the actual state of an individual’s knowledge or belief about the facts must be decided. The question as to whether that conduct was honest or dishonest is then decided by applying the objective standards of ordinary decent people. The words “honest” and “dishonesty” are ordinary English words which need no definition.
5. The test for lack of integrity applied by the Committee is as explained in Wingate & Evans v SRA and SRA v Malins  EWCA Civ 336. Society expects professionals to adhere to their moral and ethical codes and to have higher standards than expected of everyone, and professional integrity is linked to the way that a professional serves the public. Not all lack of integrity will be dishonest, but all dishonesty lacks integrity.
6. The Respondent did not attend the hearing. The Committee was referred to the service of the papers. The Committee was satisfied that the provisions as to service set out in Rule 6a of the Rules had been complied with, as the notice of the hearing, with the other documents required to be supplied, were sent to the Respondent more than the required 49 days before this hearing. Accordingly the Committee found that the notice of hearing was properly served.
7. The Committee next considered whether to proceed in the absence of the Respondent. Rule 11 permits the Committee to proceed in the absence of the Respondent. The Committee considered the case of R v Jones  UKHL 5, which Tait v The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)  UKPC 34 stated is also applicable to professional conduct proceedings. It also considered carefully General Medical Council v Adeogba  EWCA Civ 162, paragraphs 15-19, which conclude “Where there is good reason not to proceed, the case should be adjourned; where there is not, however, it is only right that it should proceed.”
8. On 20 January 2020 the Respondent stated that he could no longer access his office/matrimonial home and so could not access the papers. On 21 January 2020 the ARB offered the opportunity of video evidence, and also offered to send papers to another address. The Respondent provided no other address. Further, on 04 February 2020 ARB set up a link through “WeTransfer” so that the Respondent might access the papers electronically, by clicking on a link. That link has not been used. The Respondent has used the same 2 email addresses throughout, and the ARB has used those addresses to communicate with him.
9. A hearings officer of the ARB telephoned the Respondent on 09 January 2020. He stated that he was homeless and “sofa surfing” but did not ask for an adjournment and did not reply positively or negatively when asked whether he was to attend or be represented, saying “it depends on current circumstances”. The ARB suggested that the Respondent contact the Architects Benevolent Society. It is not known whether he did so.
10. The Respondent knows exactly what the allegations against him are, for he has responded to letters setting them out, and has had opportunity to present a defence to them. He has been served with the notice of this hearing, and the “track and trace” form was signed on 28 November 2019. He has been told on the telephone of the date, time and place of the hearing (and he would have the obligation to find out what was happening even if not).
11. He does not request an adjournment. He does not say (and there is no statement or other evidence) that he is ill or otherwise unable to attend. There is nothing to suggest that an adjournment would result in his attendance.
12. The public interest is in the expeditious hearing of matters of professional regulation. There is also an issue of public protection as there is an allegation of financial dishonesty and this is also reason to proceed.
13. Accordingly the Committee decided that the Respondent “deliberately chose not to exercise their right to be present or to give adequate instructions to enable lawyers to represent them” (the appropriate test as set out in Adeogba) and decided to proceed in his absence.
14. The Committee noted that the allegation as framed referred to the money being paid in satisfaction of “a personal debt”. As the Respondent had set out that the money was paid away in response to a threat of blackmail, the Committee agreed to an application to amend the allegation to add the words “a third party and/or” to allegations 5 and 13. There could be no injustice to the Respondent because the amendment reflected what he had written to the ARB.
15. In the absence of the Respondent the Committee took the allegation and all its particulars to be denied. While the Respondent had stated that he had paid money to a third party when he had received the money from Mr W and Mr H, he had not admitted that it was their money that he had paid over, and he had not admitted any lack of integrity or dishonesty. He had not addressed many of the issues in the allegations, but it remained for the ARB to prove them, and to satisfy the Committee that they were sufficiently serious to be UPC.
16. The role of the Committee in these circumstances is not to accept the evidence of the ARB uncritically, or to cross examine the witnesses, but to scrutinise that evidence carefully to ensure that the Respondent has a fair hearing even without attending (cf Held v GDC  EWHC 669 (Admin))
17. The Respondent stated that he had personal problems, notably the illness and subsequent death of his father, and of what turned into a very time (and attention) consuming legal case against him, and these matters distracted him from dealing with the clients (and their complaints). He was being pursued for money, he says, by someone he had dealt with and who demanded money from him in a way that was in effect blackmail. He says that when he received money from the clients he paid money to that person. He had intended, he said, to pay the Council the planning fees. In his communications with the ARB he did not deal with the allegations that he had not told the ARB of the liquidation of his company in 2012, or its dissolution in 2017, or the absence of the information required from him about insurance for his practice. He did not address the issue of the receipt of money for a structural engineer, there being no evidence that the engineer was ever contacted, and he does not claim to have refunded either client the money paid.
18. The Committee perused the report of the ARB’s solicitor with accompanying documents running to some 290 pages. The ARB called oral evidence from Mr W and from Mr H and from an employee of the ARB, whose witness statement narrated the history of the complaint and its investigation and exhibited the correspondence about the complaints, and to and from the Respondent. She was not required to give oral evidence, because her statement was a record of the correspondence between the Respondent and others in the ARB.
Submissions by the ARB
19. The report set out the ARB case fully. The timeline showed how the allegations relating to lack of progress was made out. There was an absence of adequate explanation for the delays, and they were not explained at the time. The Respondent accepted that he had asked for and had received money from Mr W for planning fees and from Mr H for planning fees and for a structural engineer. He accepted that when he received that money he paid money to a 3rd person for personal reasons. The way this was phrased made it entirely clear that it was their money which was paid away for his personal use. That his personal circumstances were highly unusual was not to the point: he knowingly used client money for his own purposes, did not use it for the intended purposes, and lied about it when asked. The clients’ matters could not proceed for want of payment of the fees, which they had paid to the Respondent for onward transmission. This was plainly dishonest, and lacked integrity. His limited liability company through which he practised and gone into liquidation, and he had failed for 5 years to tell his regulator as was required of him. His response to his professional regulator had not been as the profession and the public had every right to expect.
Submissions by the Respondent
20. There were none, and so the Committee perused carefully the correspondence from him to the ARB.
Absence of inference from absence of Respondent
21. It is to be expected that a professional person accused of misconduct will attend the hearing of his professional disciplinary tribunal to give an account of himself, and should he choose not to do so, the disciplinary tribunal may draw an inference adverse to that member of that profession. The Committee notes that the Respondent has not attended, and is satisfied that this absence is voluntary for the reasons set out above. The Committee has considered the case of Kuzmin, R (On the Application Of) v General Medical Council  EWHC 2129. The Committee noted that the 4 criteria set out in Kuzmin had been met in this case, but decided that it did not need to draw an inference adverse to the Respondent in consequence of his voluntary absence. The Committee noted that a guidance note concerning the possibility of such an inference being drawn was sent to the Respondent with the papers for this hearing, but having heard the evidence, and read the contributions of the Respondent the Committee decided that the evidence was entirely sufficient to make findings of fact without the need to draw an adverse inference.
22. The Committee found the evidence of Mr W and Mr H to be balanced, credible and consistent, and it was supported by contemporaneous documents, and the subsequent representations of the Respondent to the ARB.
Findings of Fact
23. The allegations are all factually accurate.
1. Did not pay planning fees for Mr W: The Respondent requested and received £770 from Mr W at the end of January 2018, expressly for planning fees. The Respondent then said he needed more money for planning fees and Mr W sent a further £754 in early February, of which £154 was for planning fees and £600 on account of his own fees. He expressly asked for the money to be paid to him, and not direct to the Council. He said he would pay the money via the Council’s “portal”. Mr W was not able to get an update from the Respondent and could not see the application on the portal. On 09 March 2018 he attended the Council offices to be told that no planning fee had been paid. In a letter to the ARB dated 22 February 2019 the Respondent stated “… was blackmailing me over family matters that I had told him in confidence a few years earlier. Upon receiving the fees from Mr W I paid a substantial sum to (redacted) hoping that it would be an end to the situation, with the view of paying the planning fee when notification was received from the local authority. Unfortunately (redacted) did not relent…”. The Respondent does not claim ever to have paid that fee, or to have refunded the money.
2. Undue delay in respect of Mr W: because the planning fees were not paid the applications were not progressed by the Council. That was the work the Respondent was retained to do. He had not done so by the time Mr W withdrew instructions in late May 2018, not being able to get an answer from the Respondent.
3. Did not keep his client (Mr W) informed about the work: there were a series of emails in the first 5 months of 2018 from Mr W to the Respondent asking for an update, which were for the most part unanswered. Those that were answered said only that he was preoccupied with other matters, and did not address the non-payment of the fees, which Mr W had paid to him, without which the matter could not proceed. For example on 11 March 2018 “What is happening with our planning application? You have had our money for weeks now, yet the Council informed we (sic) you still have not paid it, and there are things wrong on the plans. If you have not got the time or do not want the work then please tell us and we will get someone else to do the work.” On 28 March 2018 the Respondent replied offering sincere apologies. He stated “I will contact the Council tomorrow and get the issues resolved and application registered.” He did neither. The client was reduced to knocking on the Respondent’s door to find out what he could but the door was not answered on several occasions and on the one occasion it was answered he provided no satisfactory answer. The client felt that he had been fobbed off. The Respondent was tardy in providing information to Mr W and when he did provide information to Mr W it was misinformation.
4. Did not deal with a complaint from Mr W appropriately: on 12 June 2018 Mr W emailed the respondent “Can you please explain the situation as I contacted the Council to find out the progress of our application that you apparently submitted, and the lady informed me that the fee had not been paid. In fact she seemed to think that none of the fee had been paid? We were led to believe that part of the fee was paid in February when we transferred the money to you, then you came back and asked for more money when the Council informed you that the fees had been increased, so we have been waiting for the increase to be paid. What is the truth? Has some of it been paid? All of it? Or none of it?” The Respondent wrote on 20 June 2018 to Mr W: “My sincere apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I have had personal matters to deal with, which have kept me away from my desk. The original fee was paid via the Planning Portal, and for some unknown reason this does not seam (sic) to have reached the council. I am currently waiting for a reply from the Planning Portal regarding the situation.” On the balance of probabilities the Committee finds that it was not true that the Respondent had tried to pay money via the portal, nor that he was in touch with the Council about it. All he had to do was pay the fee, but he did not, because he had given the money to another, and did not have the money to pay to the Council, or simply did not do so. Later Mr W emailed the Respondent about the planning fees (06 July 2018) ending “Can you just be honest with us?”. This was clearly a complaint and the response was to tell the complaining client untruths. This is not an appropriate way to deal with a complaint.
5. Paying money from Mr W for planning fees to another, either lacking integrity or dishonestly: The Respondent requested money from Mr W for a particular purpose. It was to put him in funds so that he would pay the planning fee required to advance the work he was instructed to carry out. When he got that money he paid it to another person, but told Mr W it had been paid to the Council, or that he had tried to pay it to the Council and that was not true. He instigated the entire process, and no one could view that conduct as honest. Plainly it also lacked integrity. As the client could have paid the Council direct, the Committee considers that the reason the Respondent asked Mr W to pay him was in order to get the money to pay to the 3rd person: this is the necessary evaluation of what the Respondent stated to the ARB. He was being menaced, he said, he asked the client for the money, and that enabled him to pay the 3rd person. The Committee finds that the Respondent never had any intention of paying the Council. When he had misappropriated the money he then lied about it. While he may have found himself in extremis (the Committee makes no finding of fact as that issue) that would not make the diversion of the money any less dishonest.
6. Did not cooperate with the Registrar: the Respondent did not respond at all to requests to provide details of his insurance. He did not respond at all for 6 weeks, and then only to ask for more time, which was given to him. He has never made any response about the liquidation of his company and its dissolution.
7. Did not report the liquidation of the company to the Registrar: the company (Glen Eldridge Architects Ltd.) was put into liquidation on 05 December 2012. The company had assets of only £4,541.18 and the shortfall was £145,282.12. The company was dissolved on 21 May 2017. None of this was reported to the Registrar. The Respondent did change the address on the Register to remove the name of the Company. It is not that he was unaware of the obligation to keep the Registrar informed. He then continued to trade under the name “Glen Eldridge Architects” as the trading name or style of another company he formed, GEADS Ltd.
8. Did not hold adequate insurance and/or did not provide evidence of insurance: the Respondent did not provide detail of his insurance, despite requests made of him to do so on 07 December 2018, 14 December 2018 and 07 February 2019. He has not provided evidence to this Committee of any insurance. However the Committee is unable to make a finding that the Respondent had no insurance, as it is impossible to prove a negative. The Committee considered whether to draw an adverse inference against the Respondent on this charge, but decided that it was proved on the basis that he had not provided evidence of it, and that, coupled with the seriousness of failing to cooperate with the Registrar, is sufficient.
9. Mr H – did not pay the planning fee: This is an exact parallel with Mr W. £433 was transferred by Mr H to the Respondent on 26 April 2018 for planning fees. In July 2018, concerned at the position Mr H contacted the Council direct. They told him that they had been trying to contact the Respondent for a number of weeks to get the fees paid, for a number of other applications (Mr H had 4 applications pending). The Council gave Mr H copies of letters dated 27 June 2018 to the Respondent stating that the applications about which he had enquired could not be registered for want of the fees, and stating that if no response was received within 21 days it would be assumed that it was no longer wished to proceed with the applications. The Respondent had not replied and the applications were therefore not live. The Respondent said the same about this money as he said about the money received from Mr W.
10. Mr H – undue delay: the application was lodged and would have proceeded had the Respondent paid to the Council the fee he had asked Mr H to provided, and which he had provided. By diverting Mr H’s money to a third person the work for Mr H was unduly delayed. There would have been no delay had he paid the fee to the Council.
11. Mr H – did not deal with a complaint properly: Mr H’s concerns at the absence of progress and of any information turned into a complaint. This was dated 22 August 2018. Mr H requested a response in 2 weeks, but he received none, nor any refund. Mr H paid about £6,500 to the Respondent and received nothing of value from the Respondent.
12. Mr H – dishonestly received money for a service not undertaken: the Respondent suggested a structural engineer and asked for £575 on account of the engineer’s fee. Client H paid this amount to the Respondent on 18 May 2018. The Respondent provided no receipt, although Mr H specifically requested one. No work was ever done by that structural engineer. The Respondent has not made any comment about this allegation, other than to say that the money was paid to a third person. The Respondent knew all the facts – it was he that asked for the money. Any informed member of the public would regard it as dishonest to ask for money on account of fees of another, and then to keep those fees or pay them away to someone else. There is no evidence that the engineer in question ever knew anything about Mr H or his project, and vice versa.
13. Used Mr H’s money to pay a third person dishonestly: this is an exact parallel with allegation 5, and the Committee comes to the same conclusions.
Findings on allegation of Unacceptable Professional Conduct
24. Whatever the reason for the payment to a third person of client money, received by the Respondent from Mr W and Mr H, to be spent furthering the projects which they had instructed him to take forward, it was plainly dishonest. The Respondent knew exactly what he was doing, and that he may have hoped to make up the money later is not to the point. His clients’ transactions would not proceed for many months, because he had not paid the fees to the Council. The clients had provided the money, and they believed the fees to have been paid to the relevant authority. He told them he had that in hand, and it was not true. Whatever the pressure he may have been under, this was dishonest. He knew exactly what he was doing and an ordinary decent person would inevitably regard this as dishonest.
25. When the clients complained he deflected them with excuses about illness he suffered, or his father suffered, or by reason of his father’s death, or the pressures of litigation. These matters may well have been true, but in reality the reason was that he had not paid the fees but diverted the money for personal use, and when directly challenged, he lied. He failed to answer one email (noted above) which very simply asked him just to be honest about the situation.
26. The limited company of the Respondent went into liquidation in 2012, and was dissolved in 2017. It was insolvent, with a shortfall of approaching £150,000. It was his obligation to tell the Registrar and he did not do so. This is a serious matter, particularly given the scale of the shortfall. It damages the reputation of the profession if an architect trades through a company that becomes insolvent in such a way. Creditors who lost everything they were owed included staff and suppliers. The Respondent just carried on his practice under the same style omitting the word “Ltd” as a trading style through a different limited company he had set up in 2012.
27. The Respondent did email and did telephone the ARB in response to letters received, but only to ask for more time and he did not then respond substantively promptly. When he did respond he did not address the matters fully, particularly the way he dealt (or did not deal) with the complaints, or the delays, and about insurance and the liquidation of his company.
28. The Committee bore in mind Roylance v The General Medical Council (Medical Act 1983)  UKPC 16 which provided what has become the standard definition of misconduct: it is “A word of general effect involving some act of omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances.” Spencer v General Osteopathic Council  EWHC 3147 (Admin) (at paragraph 23) stated that for a finding of unacceptable professional conduct there must be moral opprobrium. There must be a serious falling short for conduct to form “unacceptable professional conduct”.
29. The Committee finds that each of these individual particulars amount to UPC. Cumulatively they amount to very serious UPC.
30. Accordingly the Committee finds the allegation against the Respondent that he is guilty of UPC, and that each and every particular alleged has been proved to the requisite standard.
31. There was none put forward. The Respondent has not appeared before the Committee before.
Submissions from the ARB
32. The issue of sanction was a matter for the Committee, which would be guided by its Sanctions Guidance.
33. The primary purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive (though this may be their effect) but to protect members of the public, to maintain the collective reputation of the profession (and the ARB as its regulator), and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and competence. Sanctions also help ensure that the profession better understands the importance of professional standards.
34. The Committee has considered the Sanctions Guidance (“SG”). If it decides to impose a sanction, the Committee commences at the lowest sanction, and only if it decides that sanction is not appropriate does it move to the next level of sanction. Having arrived at a sanction that it is minded to impose the Committee then reviews the next sanction above so as to satisfy itself that this would be too severe a sanction before arriving at a final conclusion. If the Committee decides on a fine, it is limited by the Architects Act 1997 to £2500.
35. The Committee considered that a sanction is appropriate because of the need to declare and uphold professional standards.
36. The Committee identified the following mitigating and aggravating factors.
37. The Respondent has no previous finding against him in a professional career of many years (however this is somewhat reduced as a factor given his failure to tell his regulator of the insolvent liquidation of his company, which, if notified, could have led to a case being brought against him in 2012 for failure to manage his practice finances soundly). The Respondent’s father was ill, and died, and the Respondent was faced with extreme personal stress in being blackmailed.
38. The aggravating factors are that the appellant effectively stole his clients’ money and then lied about it to them. The Respondent was evasive when they complained. This was a breach of a fiduciary duty with a severe effect on the reputation of the profession. The failure to tell the regulator of his substantial debts and liquidation of his company was of 5 years duration. The clients between them lost nearly £10,000.
39. The SG states that where the Committee decides that it is appropriate to impose a sanction in relation to a guilty finding, a reprimand is the lowest sanction that can be applied. If this is considered not appropriate the Committee may impose a penalty order, or suspend an architect from the Register for a fixed period (at the expiry of which period the architect is automatically restored to the Register), or erase an architect from the Register.
40. The SG states that an erasure order may be imposed by the Committee for those offences that are so serious that only a permanent removal from the Register will protect the public and/or the reputation of the profession. The SG states that dishonesty is one of the indicators that erasure is the appropriate sanction.
41. The circumstances of this case do not meet the criteria for a reprimand, a penalty order or a suspension, because the conduct found proved is fundamentally incompatible with the Respondent remaining registered as an architect. The public has the right to expect that an architect will not take their money dishonestly, and an architect who does this is not someone who can be permitted to remain a member of the profession. He has displayed no insight. He has shown an entrenched integrity issue. He has dishonestly misappropriated the money of more than one client, and been untruthful about it when asked. His actions rendered impossible his clients’ projects, which required the planning permissions the fees for which he misappropriated. He has made no effort to apologise or reimburse his clients. He has failed to cooperate with his regulator.
42. The Committee so decides in the case of the Respondent.
43. Erasure from the Register is permanent, though an application may be made to the ARB for re-entry after no less than two years. The Committee may make a recommendation as to a minimum period of time before such an application should be considered. The Committee recommends that no such application should be considered for 10 years from today. It is hard to see how dishonesty such as this can ever be remediated. There is plainly a risk to the public and enormous damage to the reputation of the profession. The reputation of the profession would be substantially damaged were someone who misappropriated substantial amounts of client funds be permitted to be in the profession, in circumstances where there is no evidence of insight, apology or attempt at recompense, and where there has been a failure to cooperate with the Registrar.
44. As he has been erased from the Register the Respondent is not permitted to use the title ‘Architect’ in business or practice (nor any reference to membership or fellowship of RIBA). This Erasure Order will be publicised for a period of five years after the date of sanction, as the Rules provide.
¹ Amended at the commencement of the hearing.
² Also amended at the commencement of the hearing.
³ Emphasis added to highlight the relevant part of the Standard.