Goodwin v Health and Care Professions Council [2014] EWHC 1897 (Admin)

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The appellant was a biomedical scientist (BMS), the respondent regulatory body was the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The appellant referred himself to the HCPC, as did Warrington Hospital, where the appellant was employed. That referral led to a hearing before a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee (CCC) of the HCPC (the panel).

The panel found all the allegations against the appellant to be proved. Those were, among others, that the appellant had not demonstrated the required competency levels in nine specific areas, had not demonstrated appropriate time management skills, had not prioritised tasks appropriately and had not demonstrated an appropriate awareness of health and safety issues. The panel found that he had fallen significantly below the basic level of BMS practice across all areas of clinical bench work in the laboratory, time management and health and safety over a considerable period of time.

The errors constituted several serious fundamental breaches of the standards of the profession. He had brought the profession into disrepute and his fitness to practise was impaired. The panel imposed a sanction of suspension for 12 months following consideration that he was at an early stage of his career and he was hard working. In all the circumstances, it thought it would be unfair and disproportionate to strike him off. The appellant appealed.

The appellant submitted that he had been disadvantaged because of the length of time which the matter had taken to come before the CCC. He had referred himself in August 2011. That had been five months before his dismissal. What was at issue was his ability to pursue his profession as a BMS. That was a 'civil right' for the purposes of art 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that provision guaranteed that his civil rights would be determined within a reasonable time.

His other grounds of appeal included: (i) that he had been subjected to an excessive degree of supervision; (ii) that the Warrington Hospital (the hospital) failed to follow its own procedures; (iii) that there had been factual errors in the panel's decision; (iv) that the panel failed to consider the significance of any alleged errors which he had committed by comparison errors with made by others in the department.

Others, who made similar errors to him, had not been subjected to similar allegations before the HCPC; (vii) the panel erred in the weight which it gave to the evidence of the witnesses from the Hospital. They were at odds with the assessments which he had achieved in his studies and for the work that he had done to gain his IBMS certificate. Consideration was given to pt 52 of the Civil Procedure Rules.

The appeal would be dismissed.

An appellate court would allow an appeal if the decision of the lower tribunal was: (i) wrong; or (ii) unjust because of serious procedural or other irregularity in the proceedings in the lower tribunal. The judgment of the panel deserved respect as the body best qualified to judge what the profession expected of its members in matters of practice and the measures necessary to maintain the standards and reputation of the profession.

Their judgment was also to be afforded particular respect concerning standards of professional practice and treatment. The court's function was not limited to a review of the panel decision but it would not interfere with a decision unless persuaded that it was wrong. It would therefore exercise a secondary judgment as to the application of the principles to the facts of the case before it. The court would be slow to characterise as 'wrong' any finding which depended on the assessment of the credibility of a witness who had given live evidence before the lower court or tribunal and whom the appellate court would not have seen (see [10], [11], [13] of the judgment).

The period of time between the applicant's self-referral and the hearing had not been excessive. It had not exceeded the 'reasonable time' requirement in art 6 of the Convention. Neither the complaint of delay or lack of expertise of panel members had been well founded, the appellant would only succeed if he could show that the decision of the panel was 'wrong'. On the facts the panel were not wrong. Its criticisms of the appellant had been scathing. It had considered the mitigating circumstances and the aggravating factors. It had considered the case to have been serious, but it bore in mind that the appellant had been at an early stage of his career.

In all the circumstances, it thought it would be unfair and disproportionate to strike the appellant off. The sanction of suspension was one which had been open to the panel in the light of its findings (see [7], [23] of the judgment).

Duthie v Nursing and Midwifery Council [2012] All ER (D) 332 (Oct) applied; Azzam v General Medical Council [2008] All ER (D) 149 (Dec) considered.

Reproduced with kind permission of LexisLibrary.