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Regulatory proceedings: a cautionary tale

Professional people facing regulatory or disciplinary proceedings brought by their regulatory bodies ought to take some time to read the judgment in Held v General Dental Council [2015] EWHC 669. It very clearly demonstrates the need to ensure engagement in the process and attendance at any final hearing. Mr Held was a dentist facing allegations brought by the General Dental Council [GDC] for practicing without indemnity insurance for about 6 weeks in 2013. The final hearing had originally been listed in February 2014 and Mr Held had engaged solicitors who successfully applied for an adjournment albeit that the Professional Conduct Committee remarked that he had acted in a “dilatory if not negligent manner”. The matter was adjourned until 27 May 2014.  Following this hearing he gave no substantive response to requests from the GDC to supply patient records. Shortly before the hearing his solicitors withdrew. On the day before the hearing he prepared a letter (not a witness statement) in which he made submissions in his defence. On the morning of the hearing, Mr Held simply emailed the PCC stating: “Please find attached documents for consideration. However, as I am not well enough to attend I am going to see a doctor. Let me know if you request an attest”. The GDC proceeded with the hearing and the PCC found against him and decided that the appropriate sanction was erasure from the Register. Mr Held appealed, as his statutory right, to the High Court on the grounds: i) that proceeding with the hearing in his absence was contrary to the rules of natural justice; ii) the PCC failed to deal with the evidential points raised in the letter; c) that the decision was unsafe given an aspect of its decision; and d) the sanction was disproportionate. His Honour Judge Stephen Davies rejected each ground. First of all he said this about the appellate jurisdiction of the High Court in such cases in general: “the PCC has to have regard to the public interest and the profession’s reputation as a whole, not just to the individual circumstances of the doctor. Second, because of this and because of its specialist nature the PCC has especial expertise in making judgments in relation to sanction. Therefore… the Court should not interfere unless it is satisfied that the decision was inappropriate in all the circumstances”. In dismissing the appeal, he pointed to the history of the proceedings, the failure to engage, the lack of medical evidence in support of his absence and the fact that the letter had been drafted the day before the hearing making submissions but no mention of illness or incapacity. He also refused to accept fresh evidence and pointed to Mr Held’s poor disciplinary history when justifying the sanction. The judgment clearly demonstrates the danger in seeking to rely on appeal against the decisions of disciplinary regulatory bodies.


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