In this case heard by the Inner House of the Court of Session, the Court held that the General Pharmaceutical Council's Fitness to Practise Committee ("FTPC") had erred in removing a pharmacist from the register since it failed to take into account the Council's ability to review, and extend, a suspension order against a registrant.
This case was brought by the appellant (K), against the Council following the decision of its' FTPC to remove him from the Register of Pharmacists. The charges against K had arisen from two separate convictions relating to the physical assault/abuse of his ex-wife and the related damage to property. K admitted his conduct and conceded that his fitness to practise was impaired by virtue of the convictions, and the resultant impact of his conduct on public confidence in the profession.
Having determined that K's fitness to practise was impaired, the FTPC turned to consider sanction. The Committee noted that "The limit of the Committee's power of suspension is a period of 12 months" and concluded that "…suspension for that period would be insufficient to mark the degree of seriousness of [K's] conduct". Accordingly, the FTPC ordered removal from the Register; the only alternative sanction they considered available to them, despite acknowledging that it might 'appear harsh'.
K appealed on the grounds that the decision to erase him was manifestly wrong, and/or a decision that no reasonable Committee should have imposed in the circumstances of the case. The Court quashed the FTPC's order and remitted it back to the Council for further consideration. The Court held that the FTPC had failed to take into account Paragraph (3) of the Pharmacy Order 2010 which provides that, where a Practise Committee has directed any sanction other than removal (i.e. such as conditions or suspension), it has the power to direct that a formal review takes place before the period of suspension expires. At the review hearing, the term of the conditions/suspension can be extended by up to 12 months. Accordingly, the Court found that the FTPC had erred by failing to at least consider the imposition of 12 months suspension, with a direction that a review be undertaken before the end of the term.
This case is a useful reminder for all parties to fitness to practise hearings of the power (held by most professional regulators) to consider review (and, if necessary, extension) of a suspension order; there may be circumstances where, when a case sits on the borderline of suspension and erasure, it will be appropriate to direct a period of suspension on the basis that this can potentially be extended in the future.