Professional discipline is the process by which regulators and professional bodies take action against the registration of their members. A regulator may commence an investigation for a variety of reasons including deficient performance, allegations of misconduct, both within and outside of practise, or concerns about a professional’s physical or mental health.
A regulator will normally consider whether it is necessary to take action against one of its members in order to uphold standards of behaviour, to protect members of the public, or to uphold the reputation of a profession.
Who do we act for?
The regulatory team at Stephensons act for a wide range of professional clients. We regularly act for doctors who are referred to the GMC; dentists referred to the GDC; pharmacists referred to the GPhC. We act for chartered accountants who are facing action by ACCA, ICAEW and CIMA. We act for nurses and midwives referred to the NMC; a range of health professionals, who are referred to the HCPC, and psychotherapists facing action by the BACP, BPC and UKCP.
Professional discipline by its very nature is very wide ranging. As such we have experience of dealing with a wide range of allegations. These include issues that are directly connected to a professional's practice such as poor performance, failing to comply with professional obligations, errors leading to significant adverse outcomes to patients and clients and misconduct in the workplace such as dishonesty, sexual misconduct and bullying and harassment. It also includes allegations in professionals’ personal lives which may either cast doubt on their suitability to remain a member of that profession or may adversely affect the reputation of the profession – good examples being criminal convictions or misconduct on social media.
What are the key stages of a professional discipline case?
When dealing with most regulators there are two principal stages: investigation and adjudication. During the investigation stage a regulator will effectively build their case. That involves taking witness statements, obtaining evidence from a complainant or referrer and requesting information of documents from the practitioner themselves. In the case of a number of professions, they are obliged to cooperate with those requests for information and disclosure. At the conclusion of an investigation a professional will normally be afforded the opportunity to respond formally to draft allegations and make submissions in relation to the evidence that has been presented by the regulator. This is a critically important stage in a professional disciplinary case because many cases can be resolved at the conclusion of an investigation either with a warning being issued, an agreed outcome in relation to sanction, or with the case being dismissed altogether.
In the most serious cases, provided a regulator has been able to demonstrate that they have a realistic prospect of establishing their case, this will be referred to a formal fitness to practise or professional conduct hearing. Hearings will take place before specialist committees and tribunals who must determine whether the allegations which have been made are in fact proven and, if so, what action, if any, ought to be taken against a professional’s registration. A professional has a right to attend the hearing, to be legally represented, and to call witnesses in their defence. We will almost always advise our clients to engage fully with the process and attend hearings.
What are the possible outcomes of a professional disciplinary investigation?
Regulators and professional bodies have wide-ranging powers at their disposal. These include the power to issue warnings or reprimands, to impose conditions on a professional's registration which allow them to continue to practise but on a restricted basis. In more serious cases regulators have the power to either suspend registration or membership or remove a professional from their profession altogether. As such, the most serious of cases have the potential to be effectively career-ending.
Why is specialist legal advice recommended?
Given the sanctions available to regulators these cases often involve high stakes and the implications to a professional’s livelihood and reputation can be extremely serious. A specialist lawyer can draw on their experience to guide you through a complicated regulatory process. Stephensons have extensive experience of professional regulation. We'll provide pragmatic and sensible advice. We'll advise our clients where we think allegations should be admitted and our focus should be on mitigation, remediation and insight. We'll also advise our clients where we think a case should sensibly be defended and we'll advise them how best to go about mounting an effective and successful defence.
This area of law involves cases which are often highly emotionally charged. We recognise that to be under scrutiny by your regulator or professional body can be very stressful and daunting. A specialist lawyer provides a much-needed barrier between the professional and their regulator and can help absorb some of that pressure and stress.
If you find yourself the subject of a professional disciplinary investigation, we have a team of dedicated lawyers ready to fight your corner. Call us on 0161 696 6250.