6 NOV. 2008
Mr Mark Halls MRICS [ 1129094 ], Woodbridge, Suffolk
Wednesday 05 November 2008
RICS, Westwood Way, Coventry, UK
The formal charge is:
That you have not at all times acted with integrity and avoided conflicts of interest and any actions or situations that are inconsistent with your professional obligations in that on 12 May 2008 you were convicted of 5 breaches of Section 13 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 at Ipswich Magistrates Court Contrary to Rule 3 of the Rules of Conduct for Members 2007.
Findings with Reasons
At the outset of the hearing Mr Mark Halls admitted the charge and therefore the Panel found the facts found proved. Mr Halls has admitted that he has not at all times acted with integrity, and avoided conflicts of interest and any actions or situations that are inconsistent with his professional obligations, in that on 12 May 2008 he was convicted of five breaches of Section 13 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 at Ipswich Magistrates Court contrary to Rule 3 of the Rules of Conduct for Members 2007.
The Panel has found that this conduct gives rise to a liability for disciplinary action. The Panel is concerned that a failure to act with integrity potentially damages the reputation of the RICS and the profession, which in turn places the public interest at risk.
Determination on Penalty
The Panel has spent considerable time considering the appropriate penalty in this case. It has carefully considered all the written materials, including the numerous testimonials, and the submissions made today.
The Panel began by considering the seriousness of the breach of the Rules of Conduct in this case. It has noted that Mr Halls has been convicted of five offences under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, for which the penalty, had the matter been tried on indictment, might have been a custodial sentence. The Panel notes that these are personal convictions, although it has heard Mr Halls’ submissions that he does not understand why proceedings were not brought against his firm. The Panel is satisfied that this conduct is in no way a minor breach and does not accept that this breach could have arisen though inexperience.
It is concerned that the placing of Seatons’ sale boards outside properties which were not for sale and had not been sold by Seatons is a very serious matter which arose not least as a result of poor procedures within a company of which Mr Halls is a director.
While the Presenting Officer indicated that there was no evidence of financial gain, the Panel is concerned that the placing of boards in this way would serve to enhance the reputation of the Firm and the volume of its business. There is no way of telling whether there would be a resulting financial gain.
The Panel is concerned that the boards were placed outside properties owned by MPSH Holdings Limited, of which Mr Halls and his wife are understood to be directors. Mr Halls has indicated that he was aware that a board was up outside the property at 15 The Street, Melton, but has told the Panel today that he was unaware whether it was a sale or lettings board, despite the board having apparently been erected for a number of months.
The Panel has received evidence today which indicates that Trading Standards first contacted Seatons about the board at Melton in April 2007. It is very concerned that on receipt of this information Mr Halls appears not to have taken prompt action to ensure no further boards had been improperly erected. The Panel considers that more thorough inquiries, particularly with those who erected boards for Seatons, might have enabled the company to take prompt remedial action. Instead, it appears that it was left to Trading Standards to identify a further four properties which formed the basis of the additional convictions. It appears that a number of boards were still on display for some time after April 2007. The Panel has noted that Mr Halls did take some remedial action in instigating a Seatons’ board procedure. The Panel considers that the conduct which resulted in the convictions would also amount to a breach of the RICS Practice Statement relating to estate agency.
The Panel was also very concerned that in an annual return for the company filed by Mr Halls on 15 July 2008, Mr Halls indicated that no principal had ever been convicted of a criminal offence, despite his own convictions on 12 May 2008. In addition, the return fails to properly identify all the directors/principals of Seatons Estate Agents Limited.
The Panel carefully considered how Mr Halls has dealt with this matter with RICS. It notes that Mr Halls had apparently telephoned the RICS on 18 April 2008 to discuss the possible court proceedings. However, after the convictions on 12 May, Mr Halls did not contact RICS again until they wrote to him on 09 June 2008. The Panel accepts that Mr Halls has not concealed matters from the RICS and has since cooperated with the RICS investigation and has attended the hearing today.
Whilst noting that this was a first offence, the Panel was not satisfied that a caution or reprimand would adequately address the serious nature of the breach and a number of aggravating matters set out above.
The Panel spent time considering whether there might be any conditions or undertakings that might adequately deal with the concerns raised by this case. However, the Panel’s view is that it is a fundamental requirement of membership that RICS members act with integrity at all times.
In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that the only penalty that would reflect the very serious issues raised by the convictions and lack of integrity demonstrated in this case is expulsion. The Panel has taken a proportionate approach to the sanction in this case and has concluded that this is the only sanction sufficient to address the public interest, including the reputation of the profession.
The Panel considered whether to additionally impose a fine in this case but considered that the order for expulsion alone was the appropriate penalty.
Determination on Publication and Costs
The Panel directs that the outcome of this case should be published in accordance with the published policy, namely that there should be publication on the RICS website, in “RICS Business” and in newspapers local to where Mr Halls is based.
The Panel directs that Mr Halls should have to pay the costs of today’s proceedings, which total £3,993.25.
Finally, the Panel reminds Mr Halls that he has a right of appeal within 28 days under Rule 59 of the Disciplinary Registration and Appeal Panel Rules 2008.