It is important for preparation to understand how General Dental Council fitness to practise hearings work and what your rights are.
GDC Hearings & Committees
Once the GDC has completed its investigation and concluded there is likely to be a case of impaired fitness to practise, it will convene one of its practice committees to hear the allegations and make a determination. The GDC’s three practise committees are:
- Professional Conduct Committee (PCC)
- The Professional Performance Committee (PPC)
- The Health Committee (HC)
Before proceeding, dentists and other regulated dental professionals must give serious consideration to seeking legal advice and representation as soon as possible when facing GDC fitness to practise investigations and proceedings. It is a well-established fact that, in the majority of cases, early engagement with expert legal advisor results in better outcomes. Expert legal advice will ensure you receive advice on the right strategy and approach, how and when to respond and representation at the various stages of the process such as the GDC’s re-hearing case management process.
Right to be represented & attending
You have the right to be represented by a legally qualified representative before a GDC fitness to practise committee.
There is no requirement for dentists or other regulated dental professionals to attend a GDC fitness to practise hearing. Whilst this might be the case, it is not advisable. As I will look at shortly, before a GDC fitness to practise committee, there is opportunity to respond to allegations and answer questions. Without being present, the GDC fitness to practise committee will need to take certain matters as read without a response which, can have negative implications for the outcome of a GDC fitness to practise case.
Engaging and participating in the GDC fitness to practise process is viewed as important and can be relevant to the outcome of a hearing and any subsequent appeal. Under certain circumstances, the GDC fitness to practise committee can agree to adjourn a hearing.
A number of people can potentially take part on a GDC fitness to practise hearing. In addition to the panel and GDC staff (i.e. GDC case presenter, GDC’s legal team, committee secretary etc.) other parties can include witnesses for both sides and members of the public.
The hearing is conducted in two stages:
- The factual inquiry. At this stage, the allegations, as set out in the notification of hearing, are considered. The burden of proving the allegations lies with the GDC.
During the factual inquiry stage, both parties, starting with the representative for the GDC, will have the opportunity to present evidence to the committee. This can be done by providing documents or calling witnesses to give evidence about relevant factual or expert matters.
At the conclusion of this stage, the committee will make its findings of fact. Essentially, it will decide on the balance of probabilities, whether the individual allegations are proved.
- The second stage is when findings of impairment and sanction are considered.
Both parties, starting with the representative for the GDC, will have the opportunity to present evidence which is specifically relevant to impairment and sanction.
Submissions are not evidence. They are comments, observations or suggestions for the committee to take into account when considering the outcome of a fitness to practise case.
This can include any extenuating circumstances and testimonials. During submissions, reference may be made to any applicable GDC guidance documents.
The committee will then decide: (a) whether the for dentists or other regulated dental professional’s fitness to practise is impaired, and if so, (b) what sanction, if any, to impose on your registration.
What powers does the committee have?
The committee can make the following sanctions:
- Conditions – Conditions are applied to your work for a set period.
- Suspension – The committee suspends your registration. This means that you cannot work as a dental professional or profit from dentistry for a set period of time. This will usually be reviewed before the end of the suspension period.
- Erasure – This is the most serious course of action as it removes your name from the GDC’s register.
When deciding what sanction to impose, the GDC fitness to practise committee will always consider the least restrictive options first, and decide if it is appropriate to apply them, before moving onto other orders that are available.
As already mentioned, dentists and other regulated dental professionals must give serious consideration to seeking legal advice and representation as soon as possible when facing GDC fitness to practise investigations and proceedings. In some cases, early engagement with expert legal advice and representation could result in an early resolution to a GDC fitness to practise investigation without the need for a full hearing.
Disclaimer: This article is for guidance purposes only. Kings View Chambers accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken, or not taken, in relation to this article. You should seek the appropriate legal advice having regard to your own particular circumstances.