Harcus Sinclair v Your Lawyers - Another nail in the coffin of solicitors’ undertakings?
High Court gives guidance on dishonesty in cases before the Health and Care Professions Council’s Conduct and Competence Committee.
Judgement date: 02 July 2014
The appellant authority (the PSA) appealed against a decision of the Health and Care Professions Council’s (the HCPC’s) Conduct and Competence Committee (the CCC) that Mohammed Ghaffar’s fitness to practise was not impaired by reason of a conviction for an offence of making false representations for personal gain.
Mohammed Ghaffar was employed as a biomedical scientist. He applied for a job which required an accredited Master of Science (MSc) degree. He had never been awarded such a degree but in interview he invented a fictitious account and claimed he had not brought his degree certificates to the interview. Ultimately, Mohammed Ghaffar was successful in his interview and offered the job he had applied for, subject to the provision of the relevant certificates. Not being in possession of such certificates, Mohammed Ghaffar wrote to the university that one of his colleagues had attended and obtained an MSc degree from. Mohammed Ghaffar asked that that the university change the name on his colleague’s degree certificate to his own. Mohammed Ghaffar claimed this name change was necessitated by a religious conversion.
The Trust who had offered Mohammed Ghaffar the job evidentially had suspicions about the certificates provided and investigated. In the course of the investigation Mohammed Ghaffar admitted that the certificate he had provided was not his own but claimed he had obtained a MSc degree via a distance learning course and that the certificate had never been provided to him.
He was charged by the police with dishonestly making false representations for personal gain, a charge to which he pleaded guilty and for which he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment suspended for 12 months, plus 200 hours community service.
The matter came before the CCC and they found that the maintenance of public confidence in the profession did not require a finding of impairment.
The PSA appealed on the basis that the CCC’s decision had been unduly lenient in the context of s.29 National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Act 2002. The Court considered the case of Council for the Regulation of Health Care Professionals v General Medical Council  EWCA Civ 1356  1WLR 717 and determined that whether a penalty was unduly lenient in the context of s.29 was to be determined by asking whether it was one which a disciplinary tribunal, having regard to the relevant facts and to the object of the disciplinary proceedings, could reasonably have imposed.
On that basis the Court held that the CCC’s decision was unduly lenient. Mohammed Ghaffar had engaged in fundamentally dishonest conduct and there was a public interest in maintaining honesty in the care profession. The Court further stated that it would be unusual for a finding of dishonesty not to result in a finding of impairment.
With regard to the immediate case the Court noted that Mohammed Ghaffar had constructed a ‘web of dishonesty’ and held that his conduct required a finding of impairment.
The decision of the CCC was quashed and the appealed allowed.
Court decided to proceed to determine sanction at this stage, rather than remit the matter back to the CCC, and, having had regard to powerful testimonies about Mohammed Ghaffar, the fact he was now on an MSc course and had demonstrated insight and remorse, the Court imposed a 12 month suspension to be reviewed in the normal way.
We await the full judgement, however it appears that this may be a further case in the vein of Bolton and Parkinson demonstrating that, as with solicitors and nurses, a finding of dishonesty in respect of health and care professionals will usually result in a finding of impairment, if only for public confidence reasons alone.
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