DC finds conviction does not render vet unfit to practise

11 June 2019

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Disciplinary Committee has found a Lancashire-based veterinary surgeon not unfit to practise following his conviction for careless driving causing death.

The hearing of the case against Colm Doherty took place on Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 May 2019 when the Disciplinary Committee, chaired by Mr Ian Green, considered one charge against him. The charge was that, whilst being registered on the RCVS Register of Veterinary Surgeons, on 13 November 2018 Dr Doherty was convicted following a guilty plea of careless driving causing death and that the conviction rendered him unfit to practise veterinary surgery.

Whilst driving, Dr Doherty had lost control of his vehicle returning from a veterinary conference and his vehicle went across the centre of the road into the path of a car driven by Mrs Mary Long, who died at the scene from her injuries. Dr Doherty was convicted at the Kilkenny Circuit Criminal Court in the Republic of Ireland on 13 November 2018 and on 23 November sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended in its entirety for 2 years on condition that he enter a bond of 500 Euros to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for 2 years, and was disqualified from driving for five years and fined 5000 Euros.

At the outset of the hearing the respondent admitted the charge but did not admit that his conviction rendered him unfit to practise veterinary surgery and it was then the task of the Committee to consider whether the conviction rendered him unfit to practise.

In coming to its decision, the Committee took into account the evidence it had heard from Ms Nicole Curtis for the College and from Mr Glasson QC for Dr Doherty.

Ms Curtis submitted that the conviction was serious as Dr Doherty had received a suspended custodial sentence. She submitted that the public interest would require a finding that the conviction rendered the Respondent unfit to practise. Ms Curtis also referred the Committee to the general regulatory law principle, that a professional who has been convicted of a serious criminal offence should not be allowed to practise until such time as the satisfactory completion of their sentence which in Dr Doherty’s case would be in November 2020.

The Committee also considered the mitigating factors included in the Judge’s sentencing remarks regarding Dr Doherty, including that he had accepted responsibility for the accident from the outset and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, and that, furthermore, Dr Doherty had suffered deep remorse over the accident.

“The Respondent prior to the accident was driving properly, not too fast and his car was road worthy and within two to eight seconds the offence altered the course of his life, and tragically that of Mrs Long, forever. The Committee hopes one day in the future the Respondent can forgive himself for the tragic loss of life.”

The Committee took into account the public interest and concluded that the public, in full knowledge of the exceptional circumstances of this case, would not expect a finding that the conviction rendered Dr Doherty unfit to practise.

The Committee also took into account that the conviction related to an accident that occurred whilst Dr Doherty was a veterinary student in 2016 rather than a qualified veterinary surgeon.

Therefore, having taken into account all of the evidence and given due consideration to all factors, the Committee concluded that the conviction did not render Dr Doherty unfit to practise veterinary surgery.

“The respondent has always accepted the seriousness of the offence for which he was convicted. There was the tragic loss of life of another road user who was a mother, wife and grandmother and a highly regarded member of the Community,” said Mr Green.

“The respondent prior to the accident was driving properly, not too fast and his car was road worthy and within two to eight seconds the offence altered the course of his life, and tragically that of Mrs Long, forever. The Committee hopes one day in the future the Respondent can forgive himself for the tragic loss of life.”

In coming to a conclusion on this matter, the Committee recognised that this was a serious offence involving the death of Mrs Long and where Dr Doherty had received a suspended custodial sentence and therefore it was right and proper that this case should have been referred to the Disciplinary Committee for a public hearing.

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