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Being a witness at a Disciplinary Committee hearing – Frequently Asked Questions

Please note that these FAQs have been prepared for witnesses called on behalf of the RCVS. Witnesses called on behalf of the respondent veterinary professional may find its contents useful, but we would also recommend contacting the respondent's representatives for further information.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Before the hearing

  • You are being called as a witness as you have either raised concerns regarding a registered veterinary professional or are a witness to events that somebody else has raised concerns about. You will have already been interviewed and given a formal statement to RCVS’ external solicitors.

    On this occasion, a decision has recently been made by the Preliminary Investigation Committee to refer the matter to the Disciplinary Committee (‘DC’) for a hearing which means that those who have provided a witness statement are required to attend and give evidence.

    It is important that those who have provided witness statements are available on the day of the hearing so that both parties, and the DC, have the opportunity to ask questions and better understand the incident(s) complained about.

  • Yes, in the conclusion to your witness statement, it will state that you are willing to attend a hearing if required and the expectation is that all those who have given statements will attend.

    Prior to the hearing, you will receive a witness summons issued by the High Court. A witness summons is a legal document that makes it compulsory for you to attend. We issue witness summonses for all of our witnesses as many find it useful for the purposes of confirming to their employer the reason you will need to take time off work to attend the hearing.

    If there are exceptional reasons why you are unable to attend (for example, due to ill-health), it may be possible to rely on your written witness statement as evidence without you needing to attend. However, in order to do this, you will need to supply evidence (for example a Doctor’s letter) to explain why you cannot attend. There is a formal legal procedure to go through to have a witness excused from the requirement to attend the hearing. Therefore, if you think you may not be able to attend for any reason, please contact us immediately to discuss.

    In some limited situations, your evidence may be “agreed” prior to the hearing. This means that both parties agree that your witness statement can be relied on without you needing to attend and give live evidence. This is not normally confirmed until very close to the hearing (for example the week before, or week of, the hearing) so you should plan on attending unless told otherwise.

  • You will be asked to provide your availability for a period of several months. This information will then be used to work out a date that is best for all involved. We aim to identify a hearing date within three months of a matter being referred, however this is not always possible due to the availability of all those involved. Once a hearing date has been identified on, you will be notified.

    The length of time that a hearing takes varies according to the number of witnesses being called, some hearings can last 2 or 3 days and some can last 3 weeks. You will not be required to attend for the whole hearing and will only be asked to attend on the day you will be giving your evidence. You will not be required to stay at the hearing after you have given your evidence. Nearer the hearing, you will be told the exact date and time you need to be there.

  • Hearings are normally held at locations in London (although occasionally hearings are remote where necessary) and in most cases witnesses are required to attend in person. If you will have difficulties attending in person, remote attendance may be possible. In order to attend remotely, we will need you to supply evidence to explain why you cannot attend in person. There is a formal legal procedure to go through to permit a witness to give their evidence remotely. Therefore, if you think you may need to attend remotely, please contact us immediately so this can be discussed further.

  • We can reimburse reasonable expenses for travel, accommodation and food but we will require you to submit an expense claim form together with receipts for such expenses. Details of the maximum amounts that will be reimbursed are on the expense claim form. If you have any queries about what you can claim, please let us know.

    Additionally, if you think you will incur a direct loss of earnings as a result of attending the hearing, please let us know so this can be discussed in more detail.

  • The RCVS solicitor managing the matter will always have a call with you before the hearing so you can learn more about the process and ask any questions you might have.  Additionally, if you work within the veterinary community, you may also wish to contact:

    • Your professional indemnity insurer
    • ProfCon Investigation Support (PCIS) which is a free confidential listening and support service designed to support those going through the professional conduct investigation process
    • VetLife who offer independent and confidential support 24/7 265 days a year:
  • You do not need to do anything particular to prepare for the hearing as giving evidence is not intended to be a memory test and you are not expected to learn your statement by heart. However, before the hearing you will receive a copy of your signed witness statement and any exhibits attached to it. We recommend re-reading your statement before the hearing, to refresh your memory and check for any changes. If there are any changes (e.g. your role or place of work has changed), please let us know.

    You might also receive a version of your statement which has been redacted (black boxes over some of the text). This is because, when the statement is initially taken, it might be quite broad in scope. However, the issues might have narrowed once the matter reaches the hearing stage and it may be unfair to have this information in the statement if it is no longer relevant. This is relatively common so is nothing to worry about it and by receiving both copies, you will be able to compare and contrast the redacted version against the original version.

    Finally, you will need to make travel (and possibly accommodation) arrangements in advance. If you need any help with this, please let us know. Details on what can be claimed and up to what amount will be provided separately.

  • DC hearings represent the final stage of the RCVS concerns procedure. Hearings are generally held in public and follow standard court procedures. Whilst the hearing is formal, the barristers will not be wearing wigs or gowns and the DC is very aware that most witnesses will not have been in such a setting before so will be mindful to allow plenty of breaks.

    The role of the DC is to make a series of decisions. The first decision is whether the facts are proven, e.g. did the incident(s) complained of take place. It is normally during this stage of the proceedings when you (and potentially others) will be called to give evidence. When making this decision, the DC must apply the highest civil standard of proof which is ‘to be sure’. This is the same as ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ in criminal proceedings so it is a very high threshold.

    If the DC finds that the facts are proven to this high standard, it must then decide whether the veterinary professionals conduct amounts to serious professional misconduct. To make this decision, the DC may hear from expert witnesses.

    Finally, if the DC decides that the facts are proven and they amount to serious professional misconduct, they will then decide on the appropriate sanction. During this stage, the DC may hear from ‘character witnesses’ and/or the veterinary professional themselves. The DC has various sanctions available to them, such as:

    • no further action;
    • postponement of judgment (e.g. to see if certain conditions can be met in the interim);
    • a warning/repimand;
    • suspension;
    • removal from the register.

On the day of the hearing

    • Details of any travel and/or accommodation arrangements
    • Details of the hearing venue
    • Telephone number for the RCVS solicitor and venue (in case you are delayed)
    • Reading glasses (if needed)
    • A book or some other activity for whilst you are waiting to give evidence

    You will be provided with refreshments on the day. A copy of your witness statement will also be available in the hearing room.

  • Once you arrive, someone will come to see you and discuss how the day will work in more detail. Ideally, you will also be shown the hearing room so you can familiarise yourself with it before you give evidence. You may also be introduced to the barrister for the RCVS so you can meet them prior to giving evidence.

  • You cannot sit in the hearing room and listen to other witnesses before giving your evidence, as this may prejudice the case. There will be a separate room for witnesses who are giving evidence where you can wait. There may also be other witnesses for the College in the room, so we ask that you do not discuss your evidence with anyone before or after you have given it until the DC has announced its decision.

    As with any legal proceedings, it is possible that there will be delays so this is why we recommend bringing a book or other activity to keep you occupied whilst you are waiting.

  • It is likely that the veterinary professional will be present at the hearing. You should only encounter them in a relatively formal setting (i.e. inside the hearing), not whilst you are waiting or preparing to give evidence. If you feel at all uncomfortable about these arrangements, either before attending the hearing, or on the day, please let us know.

  • Attendees are split into four broad groups. The first is the Committee itself, and the people directly assisting it. For veterinary surgeon hearings, this includes 5 to 7 members who are a mix of veterinary surgeons and lay members. For Veterinary Nurse hearings, there are three members comprised of a lay person, a Registered Veterinary Nurse and a veterinary surgeon, . There will also be the Legal Assessor whose job it is to advise the DC on the relevant law. There will also be one or two DC Clerks in attendance, as well as a shorthand notetaker.

    The second group is the RCVS which includes the RCVS solicitor who has been liaising with you and the external barrister who is presenting the case. There may also be other witnesses (including an expert witness).

    The third group is the Respondent’s team. This includes the veterinary professional as well as any representation they have (for example a barrister, solicitor and/or someone from their professional indemnity insurers). It may also include any witnesses or experts they intend to call.

    The final group is the public. DC hearings are generally open to the public, but it is quite rare that members of the public attend if they have no interest in or connection to the case. It is often those with an interest in the hearing (e.g. family members or friends). The press can also attend the hearing if they wish to.

  • One of the DC Clerks will come collect you when you have been called to give your evidence. You will enter the room and be directed to the witness chair. The first thing that will happen is that everyone will be introduced to you. You will then be asked whether you wish to swear an oath on a religious text or take a non-religious affirmation (it does not matter which one you choose). You will then be asked to repeat the words of the oath or affirmation after the Legal Assessor.

    Once you have taken your oath/affirmation, the RCVS barrister will address you. You will usually be asked to confirm your name and that the document in front of you is your witness statement. You will then be asked if you have had the opportunity to read your statement recently and whether there are any changes to be made (e.g. name or job role changes). This is why we ask that you let us know about any possible changes in advance. Finally, you will be asked to confirm whether the statement is true to the best of your knowledge and belief. That then concludes your evidence for the RCVS. This is because your written witness statement (and any oral evidence) is your primary evidence, and everyone involved in the hearing will already be familiar with it.

  • Assuming the veterinary professional is in attendance, their barrister (or the veterinary professional themselves if they are not legally represented) may then ask you questions about your statement or the incident(s) in question. We cannot predict what questions you will be asked (or how many) but it could be about anything that is relevant to the case. The questioning is controlled by the RCVS barrister, the legal assessor and/or the Chair of the DC who may intervene if they think a line of questioning is inappropriate.

    There may also be questions from the DC itself. Again, we cannot predict what questions (or how many) will be asked. Sometimes there will be a short break whilst the DC consider what questions to ask and they may even leave the hearing room to discuss in more detail. During this break you will not be able to talk to anyone as you are still giving evidence.

  • It is perfectly acceptable to ask for the question to be repeated or rephrased or to say you do not understand. Equally, it is also acceptable to say you can’t answer the question (e.g. because it is outside of your knowledge or involves speculation). Everyone involved in the hearing knows that most witnesses have likely never given evidence before, so will try their best to ask clear and concise questions and be as understanding as possible.

  • Once you have finished giving your evidence, you will be released as a witness and are free to go about your day. If you want to, you can watch the rest of the hearing. However, as mentioned above, we ask that you do not speak to anyone about your evidence until the DC has announced its final decision regarding the whole case.

After the hearing

  • You will be informed of the outcome once the hearing has concluded. You will be able to view a copy of the decision and a press release on the website should you wish to learn more.

    You will also be able to claim back your expenses. Please complete the claim form and return it to us alongside all of your receipts. If you do not have a copy of the form or have any issues, do let us know.

  • If the DC has decided that the appropriate sanction is suspension or removal, a letter will be sent to the veterinary professional which explains what happens next. There is a right of appeal so the suspension/removal order will not take effect until the 28 day appeal period has elapsed and the letter sent to the veterinary professional will make these dates clear.

    If the veterinary professional does not appeal, they will then be removed from the register (either temporarily or permanently) and no longer appear on our ‘Find a Vet/Vet Nurse’ function on our website. If the individual has been suspended, they will automatically be reinstated to the register once the suspension period is complete. If the individual has been removed, they are entitled to apply for restoration to the register 10 months after they have been removed. Restoration applications are heard in formal hearings in front of the DC.

    If the veterinary professional has appealed, they will remain on the register until the conclusion of the appeal.