A recent decision of the High Court in England and Wales (the “Court”) has provided useful insight into codes of conduct for regulated professionals and, in particular, circumstances where such codes may address conduct occurring in a professional’s personal life.

Challenge

In the case of R (on the application of Pitt and Another) V General Pharmaceutical Council {2017] EWHC 809 (Admin), two pharmacists sought to challenge the new code of conduct adopted by the General Pharmaceutical Council (“GPhC”) which was due to come into effect on 01 May 2017, on the basis that the code sought to veer what they contended to be too far into the personal lives of pharmacists.

In challenging various aspects of the code, the applicants drew particular attention to the fact that the code had to be adhered to “at all times” and contended that the GPhC, in endeavouring to regulate in this manner, was acting ultra vires. Further, the applicants contended that the Code of Conduct was unlawful for uncertainty and, lastly, was contrary to Articles 8 & 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) relating to private life and freedom of expression, respectively.

Decision

In deciding the matter, the Court found in favour of the GPhC on the three grounds and, in so doing, provided useful commentary. In particular, the High Court noted the broad discretionary power of the GPhC to set standards which are appropriate relating to the conduct, ethics and performance expected of registrants.

With regard to the arguments made under the ECHR, the High Court found that the applicants could not seek to rely on the provisions given that they were not “victims” for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 in circumstances where no disciplinary charges had been pursued against them. In so deciding, however, the Court noted that the Code must be construed and applied in a manner which is compatible with the ECHR.

Guidance

This decision, although relating to a leave application only, provides useful insights and guidance in respect of the latitude to be afforded to regulators in formulating codes, particularly in the context of conduct outside the workplace. The Decision can be accessed here.

In this jurisdiction, pharmacists and retail pharmacy businesses are regulated by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (the “PSI”). The current Code of Conduct for the PSI can be accessed here.

It is intended that the PSI will review the Code of Conduct in 2017, further information can be accessed here.