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Response to feedback on recent disciplinary hearing

28 June 2013

We have received a number of comments on the recent Disciplinary Committee (DC) decision against Mr Chikosi.

In recognition of the confusion and anxiety that exists amongst some members of the profession about that decision, we wish to take the step of clarifying the practices and procedures of the DC.

It is not appropriate to discuss the detail of the case at this time, as this may run the risk of prejudicing a possible appeal from Mr Chikosi.

“Cases around 24-hour emergency cover do tend to spark debate,” says Gordon Hockey, RCVS Head of Legal Services and Registrar.

“The DC decision is consistent with long-standing RCVS advice on 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief and confirms the importance of individual professional judgement that takes account of the needs of the animal in the specific case.

“The advice in the Code of Professional Conduct and the supporting guidance remains in place, and all decisions of the DC are considered by the Advisory Committee (to be renamed the Standards Committee from July), which may result in further advice or clarification being produced by the RCVS.

“Meanwhile, nothing takes the place of reading the full decision of the DC, and I would urge veterinary surgeons with an interest in this area to take the time to do this,” adds Gordon.

 

DC practices and procedures

The DC is constituted under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and considers cases against veterinary surgeons. If a case is found proved, a veterinary surgeon may be suspended or removed from the Register.

If the DC directs that a veterinary surgeon’s name should be removed, this will take effect at the end of a 28-day appeal period, or if there is an appeal, if this is withdrawn or lost.

The DC has a Manual and Guidance on procedures. These provide guidance to the DC, the profession and the public on the decision-making processes and the full range of sanctions available.

DC members undergo one-day induction training, two-day annual training and any additional training as and when necessary.

A Legal Assessor, a Queen’s Counsel (QC), provides legal advice to the committee at each hearing and helps to draft the decision (but does not take any part in making the decision).

 

Privy Council approval

Giving judgment on an appeal case at the end of 2011, the Privy Council approved the practices and procedures of the DC, and noted that it was restricted in certain procedures by provisions in the Act itself which meant that only Council members could sit on the DC.

This part of the Act has now changed with the introduction of the Legislative Reform Order this April. Non-Council members will join DC from July, and DC members will be fully independent from Council following a two-year transition period.

Current members of the committee, their biographies and declarations of interest are available to read online.

 

Precedent

One area of concern from veterinary surgeons has been whether decisions in DC cases set a precedent.

The DC has no formal system of legal precedent and each case is considered individually on its own facts, taking into account the evidence presented and the submissions made. However, any DC decision is important to the profession, and the Committee strives to be consistent in its decision-making.

The DC’s job is to decide, on the facts of any specific case, whether a veterinary surgeon is guilty of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect or unfit to practise due to a criminal conviction – to decide whether the charge is proved.

This decision is crucial for the respondent veterinary surgeon. It may also provide guidance and/or direction to the profession as to what is likely to be considered disgraceful conduct in a professional respect; although it should always be borne in mind that every DC case will be decided on the basis of its own particular factual circumstances.

There may not be full agreement within the profession on all aspects of a decision, but it should be borne in mind that the DC is uniquely placed to consider the evidence in relation to each case and come to conclusions on the basis of that evidence.

The DC will have had an opportunity to see and assess the manner in which witnesses give evidence and to consider this in the context of all the documentary evidence and submissions in the case.

In giving its judgment, it will usually set out the factual background and context to the allegations; and, in doing so, it may make comments on matters that form part of that factual context but are not directly charged.

 

Current advice

The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct is the profession’s formal advice on proper professional conduct and practice and therefore relevant to many cases – ie it sets the standard.

It’s important to note that veterinary surgeons are not charged with any specific breach or breaches of the Code (previously the Guide), but relevant sections of the Code may be referred to in evidence and/or submissions to support an allegation that the veterinary surgeon is guilty of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect or is unfit to practise as a result of a criminal conviction

The current advice in the Code on 24-hour first aid and pain relief, which is consistent with the decision, is that:

1.4 Veterinary surgeons in practice must take steps to provide 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief to animals according to their skills and the specific situation.

The relevant supporting guidance includes the following:

3.14 Clients may request attendance on a sick or injured animal away from the practice premises and, in some circumstances, it may be desirable to do so. On rare occasions, it may be necessary on clinical or welfare grounds. The decision to attend away from the practice is for the veterinary surgeon, having carefully balanced the needs of the animal against the safety implications of making the visit; a veterinary surgeon is not expected to risk 'life or limb', or that of anyone else to provide the service.

Advice is reviewed periodically, and usually includes consultation with the profession, although these provisions have remained substantially the same for many years.

 

Press releases

We produce press releases after each disciplinary hearing, to assist in communication of the decision and any learning points. However, by their nature, such releases can only provide a summary.

We would strongly encourage those interested in any case to read the full reasoned decision from the Disciplinary Committee, which can be read online.

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