A decision of the UK General Pharmaceutical Council’s(“GPhC”) Fitness to Practise Committee (“the Committee”) was recently appealed to the High Court. The appellant in question had failed to attend at the hearing of the matter, and was struck off the Register of pharmacists in her absence.

Background

Ms Katherine Burrows had attempted to return dresses to Debenhams which she had not purchased there. She did this by affixing ‘John Rocha’ labels to the dresses. Debenhams’ staff discovered the deception when they peeled off the ‘John Rocha’ labels. Ms Burrows was cautioned for fraud by false representation.

Ms Burrows was charged by the GPhC with impairment of her fitness to practise, based on the caution she received for fraud and her subsequent failure to report this caution to the GPhC, as required under the GPhC Rules.

GPhC Hearing

When the disciplinary hearing took place before the Committee, Ms Burrows was not present as she was away on holiday. However, a barrister appeared at the hearing on behalf of Ms Burrows. In her absence, the Committee decided to impose the sanction of removal from the Register. The Committee observed that “the lack of insight…is a very concerning factor here”, and as such, “it is not appropriate to impose a period of suspension”.

Appeal

“The consequences of non-attendance are likely to be severely prejudicial”

Ms Burrows appealed the sanction to the High Court. One of the grounds of appeal was that the Committee had been unreasonable in its approach to and assessment of insight. On appeal, it was noted by the Court that no medical issues prevented the appellant from attending the hearing. The Court observed that they were seeing a “disturbingly high number” of appeals against removal from the Register, in cases where the registrants had not attended the hearings. In light of this and coupled with the fact that very often registrants do not instruct legal representation, the Court suggested that it would be prudent “for disciplinary bodies to forewarn the defendant not just that a hearing may proceed in his or her absence, but also that the consequences of non-attendance are likely to be severely prejudicial”.

The Court also noted that in dishonesty cases, the registrant will always run the risk of removal, given the serious nature of the wrongdoing. The Court stated that failure to attend the hearing essentially amounts to “courting removal” from the register.

This UK decision, while only of persuasive authority here, demonstrates the risks run by registrants who fail to attend disciplinary proceedings, particularly in cases where the registrants are facing allegations of dishonesty.

For the full judgment please click here.