SC: Registration not mandatory for undertaking the practice of architecture

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 17th March 2020, in the matter of Council of Architecture v. Mr Mukesh Goyal & Ors pronounced that Section 37 of the Architects Act does not prohibit individuals not registered under the Architects Act from undertaking the practice of architecture and its cognate activities.

Question(s) before the Hon’ble Supreme Court

Whether Section 37 of the Architects Act 1972 merely prohibits the use of the title “Architect” by individuals not registered with the Council of Architecture under Chapter 3 of the enactment or alternatively whether Section 37 actually prohibits unregistered individuals from carrying out the practice of architecture and its cognate activities.

In other words, does Section 37 permit individuals not registered with the Council to continue practicing the profession of architecture in India?

Whether the Architects Act prohibits individuals not registered with the Council from holding of the title of “architect” or prohibits them from practicing the activities undertaken by architects.

Whether a government post titled or styled using the term “Architect” can be held by individuals not registered with the Council of Architecture?

Does Section 37 of the Architects Act prohibit individuals not registered as architects under the Architects Act from practicing the activities undertaken by architects, including the design, supervision and construction of buildings ?

Whether a post titled “Architect”, “Associate architect” or any other similar title using the term or style of “Architect” can be held by a person not registered as an architect under the Architects Act ?

Court’s observations

Section 37 uses the phrase “no person shall … use the title and style of architect”. Therefore, on a plain reading of the section, the legal prohibition created is on the use of the “title and style of architect”. Title and style are distinct from practice. While a prohibition on the use of a title merely restricts an individual from attaching the said title to their name in referring to or representing themselves to others, a prohibition on practice creates a bar on the actual undertaking of specific actions. The most compelling evidence that the two concepts are materially distinct is the varied usage of the two phrases by the legislature. (Para 26)

A plain reading of Section 37 clearly supports the proposition that the Architects Act prohibits individuals not registered with the Council of Architecture from using the title and style of “Architect” and does not prohibit unregistered individuals from practicing the activities undertaken by architects such as the design, supervision and construction of buildings. (Para 26)

The first and best method of determining the intention of the legislature is the very words chosen by the legislature to have the force of law. In other words, the intention of the legislature is best evidenced by the text of the statute itself. However, where a plain reading of the text of the statute leads to an absurd or unreasonable meaning, the text of the statute must be construed in light of the object and purpose with which the legislature enacted the statute as a whole. Where it is contended that a particular interpretation would lead to defeating the very object of a legislation, such an interpretative outcome would clearly be absurd or unreasonable. (Para 28)

The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Architects Act makes it evident that the legislature was undoubtedly concerned with the risk of unqualified persons undertaking the construction of buildings leading to costly and dangerous buildings. In guarding against this risk, the legislature first set out a minimum standard of statutorily recognised qualifications to be met before an individual is designated as an architect under the Architects Act. This is done by Sections 14, 15 and 17 of the Act. Next, the legislature created two classes of individuals: the first class consisted of registered architects satisfying these minimum qualifications and a second class of unregistered individuals who did not satisfy these minimum qualifications. This is the effect of Sections 2(a), 17, 23 and 35 of the Architects Act. Crucially, the legislature chose to define an “architect” as an individual registered under the Architects Act and not as an individual practicing architecture or any cognate activities. Thus, the legislature limited the regulatory regime created by the Architects Act to the first class of individuals. In protecting the public from the risk of the second class, untrained individuals, the legislature had two options: first it could bar this second class of individuals from engaging in the profession altogether (as it had done with physicians and advocates); or alternatively it could prevent this second class of individuals from calling themselves “Architects”. The Statement of Objects and Reasons makes it clear that the legislature chose the second option and in fact went to great lengths to clarify that choice. The legislature stated that with the passing of the legislation, it shall be unlawful for an unregistered individual to “designate himself” as an architect. Further, it is expressly stated that the legislation protects the “title” of architect but does not grant registered architects an exclusive right to undertake the design, supervision and construction of buildings. Other cognate professions or unregistered individuals may continue to carry out these activities provided that they do not refer to themselves as “Architects”. (Para 29)

It is evident that the legislature did not intend to create a prohibition on the practice of architecture and associated activities by unregistered individuals. (Para 30)

Section 37 of the Architects Act does not prohibit individuals not registered under the Architects Act from undertaking the practice of architecture and its cognate activities. (Para 33)

Registration as an architect under the statute is thus a guarantee of possessing certain minimum educational qualifications. Section 37 prohibits unregistered individuals from designating themselves or referring to themselves as “architects”. The consequence of this regulatory regime is that when an individual is called an “Architect” a reasonable person would assume that they are a registered architect under the Architects Act and as a consequence possess the requisite educational qualifications and specialised knowledge associated with architects. (Para 35)

If a government post is titled “Architect” or “Associate Architect”, such a person certainly uses the title and style of “architect” and consequently there is a reasonable assumption that such a person is registered under the Architects Act and holds a degree in architecture recognised by the Act. This assumption finds statutory backing in Section 35 of the Architects Act which provides that any reference to an architect in any other law shall be deemed to mean an architect registered under the Architects Act. To promote an individual who does not possess a degree in architecture recognised by the Act to a post titled “Architect”, “Associate Architect” or of a similar style using the title or style of “architect” would effectively violate the prohibition on the use of title contained in Section 37 of the Architects Act. (Para 36)

The text of Section 37 makes no distinction between government employees and private individuals. (Para 37)

Delegated legislation is susceptible to invalidity on the grounds of being ultra vires its parent legislation but also ultra vires other primary legislation. Where the provisions of a primary legislation are contradictory to the provisions of a delegated legislation, the provisions of the primary legislation must prevail. (Para 38)

Section 37 of the Architects Act does not prohibit individuals not registered under the Architects Act from undertaking the practice of architecture and its cognate activities. (Para 39)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_17-Mar-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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