Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons v Samuel [2014] UKPC 13

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Dr Samuel, the Appellant, appealed against a decision of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Disciplinary Committee ("the Committee") that he was unfit to practise and that his name be removed from the register. The facts which led to the decision of the Committee arose from an incident which occurred between the Appellant and his next door neighbours, Ms Jackson and Mr Harvey.

According to Counsel for the Respondent, Ms Jackson and Mr Harvey returned home one evening to find that builders had entered their back garden to prepare for construction work on the Appellant's property. Ms Jackson took some pictures however, as she was walking away, the Appellant twisted her arm so that she would release her camera and he took it. When Mr Harvey arrived, the Appellant brandished a large piece of wood and threatened Mr Harvey with it.

The camera was returned to Ms Jackson, although the memory stick was not.

The Appellant's defence was that Ms Jackson had racially abused him and as a result, he lost control and proceeded to snatch the camera from her.

The Appellant was convicted of theft of the camera, common assault on Ms Jackson and using threatening, abusive or insulting words towards Ms Jackson and Mr Harvey.

At a hearing on 18 February 2013, the Committee found the Appellant unfit to practise and directed that his name be removed from the register.

The Appellant appealed on the grounds that the Committee had failed to deal properly with the issue of racial provocation, that the finding of unfitness to practise was inappropriate and that the sanction was disproportionate to his conduct.

On appeal to the Privy Council, Lord Toulson concluded that the Committee's finding of unfitness to practise could not fairly stand.

The Committee had considered the possibility that the Appellant may have been racially provoked, but confirmed that this did not justify the actions of which he was convicted.

Lord Toulson accepted that the Committee were entitled to come to this conclusion but noted that they made no further conclusion one way or another. He commented that the Committee should have given the issue of provocation far more attention than it had done.

The Committee had concluded that the Appellant was unfit to practise due to the serious nature of the convictions, and that the reputation of the profession would be damaged and public confidence undermined. However Lord Toulson held that if members of the public knew the detail of the case and the context in which it occurred, they may well think it had little bearing on the Appellant's fitness to practise as a veterinary surgeon.

Lord Toulson held that while the conduct of the Appellant was highly inappropriate, its gravity was not such that it would be in the interests of the public to remove him from the register.