We summarise below other recent cases touching on issues of professional regulation or discipline:

R (AM) v General Medical Council [2015] EWHC 2096 (Admin)

The applicant (AM), who suffers from 'locked-in syndrome', sought to challenge guidance issued by the GMC which warned that doctors who assisted suicide were at risk of having disciplinary proceedings taken against them.

AM wished to obtain medical advice about committing suicide at home and challenged the GMC's guidance on the basis that (i) it interfered with his ECHR Art 8 right to end his life at the time and in the manner of his choosing, and (ii) it was irrational for the GMC not to amend its guidance to make it consistent with the DPP's policy in respect of prosecutions. This stated that doctors could, in certain circumstances, give advice about suicide without the risk of prosecution. AM also argued that it was Wednesbury unreasonable for the GMC to take a different view as to what public policy required.

The court found that, while the GMC's guidance interfered with AM's Art 8 right to end his life at the time and in the manner of his choosing, this interference was justified under Art 8.2 as it was designed to protect vulnerable patients. The GMC was far better placed than the court to best decide how to protect the profession. Additionally, there was no reason why the GMC should take its lead in relation to this issue from the DPP, as the purposes and objectives of the GMC and DPP were different.

The court also found that it could not be wrong for the GMC to issue guidance which required doctors to obey the law (in this case, the Suicide Act 1962, under which it is an offence to intentionally encourage or assist the suicide of another person).

Professional Standards Authority v HCPC & Another(10.07.15)

The PSA successfully argued in the High Court that a two-year caution imposed on a social worker (S), who had been found by a HCPC disciplinary committee to have been dishonest, was too lenient. S had been dismissed from her job after an incident in her private life in which the police were involved. When looking for new work, she neglected to mention that period of employment on her CV, saying instead that she had taken a career break. She also failed to mention it when being interviewed for a new job.

During the HCPC's investigation, S blamed the employment agency, saying it had forwarded on an out-of-date CV. However, the committee found that S had been dishonest, that she had failed to recognise her misconduct, and lacked insight. It imposed a two-year caution.

The Administrative Court found that the committee had been unduly lenient, in that it had not followed the relevant sanctions guidance and had not given a reason for failing to follow that guidance. The guidance stated that a caution was unlikely to be appropriate in a case involving dishonesty where the respondent lacked insight. It was relevant that S continued to deny dishonesty. Accordingly, the question of sanction would be referred back to the committee for re-determination.

Shaw v General Osteopathic Council (28.07.2015)

An osteopath (S) was admonished by the GOsC's conduct committee for unacceptable professional conduct under the Osteopaths Act 1993. It found that S had failed to respect a patient's dignity by watching her undress and that, by the manner in which he had spoken to her, had failed to communicate effectively. It concluded that S was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and imposed an admonishment, although it recorded that this decision had been finely balanced.

S appealed on the basis that, while his conduct might have been insensitive and a breach of the relevant professional standards, it was not unacceptable moral conduct attracting opprobrium, and that that the committee had drawn the line in the wrong place.

The Administrative Court upheld the committee's decision, noting that the committee was a specialist body and its decision deserved respect, particularly as both parties had been represented and there was no suggestion of procedural unfairness. The committee decision was well reasoned and the court could not interfere simply because it thought it might have reached a different decision on the facts.

Questions of primary and secondary fact were akin to jury questions to which there might reasonably be different answers. The court also found that most people would consider that S's conduct should attract a degree of opprobrium, although not a high degree.