It is 30 years since a pharmacy case last reached the highest court in the land, so I have been following the case of Habib Khan with interest.
Mr Khan [registration number 2054174] was convicted by a Scottish court of serious and repeated assaults on his wife and behaving in a threatening manner. The General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) fitness-to-practise (FTP) committee concluded that a suspension would not be a sufficient sanction, because the maximum length would be 12 months.
The committee said that “repeated domestic violence is a crime striking at the core of professional healthcare. Pharmacists, in common with other healthcare professionals, have to be understanding, sympathetic for all patients, men, women and children, and must be publicly and privately trustworthy".
The committee considered that the registrant’s conduct was fundamentally incompatible with continued registration as a pharmacist, and that public confidence in the profession demanded no lesser sanction than removal from the register. It ruled to strike Mr Khan off the register in 2013, and he was suspended pending an appeal.
A Scottish appeal court allowed an appeal, holding that a 12-month suspension could have been imposed with a recommendation that the suspension be extended at a future review hearing. The GPhC appealed to the Supreme Court, which has just given its reasons for overruling almost everybody.
The Supreme Court decided last week (December 14) that the Scottish appeal court was wrong to treat the suspension as extendable and it upheld the GPhC’s appeal. Mr Khan cross-appealed, saying the striking off decision was disproportionately harsh. The Supreme Court considered it was important that Mr Khan’s conduct did not relate to his professional performance and no patient had been, or was likely to be, put at risk. Striking off was held to be unnecessary. The court said that a 12-month suspension would be proportionate to the disrepute into which Mr Khan had brought the pharmacy profession.
It is rare for appeal courts to interfere with the decisions of FTP committees, especially when it comes to the severity of a sanction, and apart from the committee’s decision to impose a suspension pending appeal (which was plainly wrong), I would not have expected Mr Khan’s cross-appeal to succeed.
Each case depends on its own facts, but when the highest court in the land decides that sanctions depend on whether or not professional performance is involved, that may have a big impact not just on future pharmacy cases, but on all the healthcare professions.
This article was first published in Chemist and Druggist, 20 December 2016.