Tim Smith is a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
I was appointed to the RTPI’s Conduct & Discipline Panel in 2016. Two 3-year terms are the maximum that any member is permitted to serve in one go and so the July 2022 meeting will be my last. It gives me an opportunity to reflect on almost six years as a member of the Panel.
The Panel comprises between 6-8 members, at least one of whom must be a Legal Member or Legal Associate and at least one must be a lay member. I have practised as a planning solicitor for almost 30 years and sit as one of two lay members currently on the Panel.
Whether RTPI members or not we all have a connection with the planning world. We all therefore have a stake in maintaining strong standards of competence and ethics amongst professional planners.
Our panel has a diverse range of experience. Some have worked in local government, some in private practice, some in both. We have judicial experience amongst our ranks (one member is a long-serving Magistrate, and I have served as a part-time Judge in both Tribunals and Courts for 9 years) as well as disciplinary experience in other professional bodies. But the main qualities I would say we all fall back on are an ability to distil the key facts from a sometimes complex background, a strong moral compass, and a healthy dose of common sense when reviewing those cases that end up at Panel.
Our cases are compiled for us by our excellent Complaints Investigator, Ruth Richards, who then writes a report outlining the key facts. Members take it in turns to present one of the cases to the Panel and then we all discuss it. One thing which strikes me is that despite what can be lengthy - and at times vigorous! - debate it is rare for there not to be unanimity in our conclusions.
Our cases over the last six years have been many and varied. Some complaints arise frequently: has a member exercised the requisite care and skill in their work? Have they been measured and professional in their dealings with others?
But some others are very unusual and unlikely ever to be repeated. Some cases (to use a sporting analogy) do not trouble the scorers for long; a member who has pleaded guilty to an offence of dishonesty will struggle to overcome a complaint regarding their professional integrity.
But most cases reveal much more of a grey area and this is where the collective experience of the Panel is invaluable. I can certainly recall cases which have looked damning on the papers but which discussions reveal to be much more nuanced and finely balanced than they first appeared.
I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Panel. I have been able to deploy my legal and judicial experience whilst in turn learning a lot from the experience of others. And I am looking forward to moving to the Appeal Committee later in the year to continue to ensure that a fair process is followed, that a proportionate outcome is reached, and above all in maintaining high standards in the planning profession.