Expert Evidence and Fitness to Practise Hearings

How Expert Evidence Can Be Used in Fitness to Practise Hearings

Expert Evidence and Fitness to Practise Hearings

Fitness to practise hearings in England and Wales constitute a crucial aspect of maintaining the integrity and standards of various professions, including healthcare and dentistry. These hearings are conducted to assess whether a professional’s conduct, performance, or health raises concerns about their ability to effectively and safely carry out their duties. The process is designed to balance the interests of the public, who rely on competent professionals, with the rights of the person facing scrutiny.

What is a fitness to practise hearing?

In the realms of healthcare, the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), among others, oversee fitness to practise hearings. These proceedings ensure that doctors, nurses, and midwives provide care that meets the expected standards and does not compromise patient safety. The process involves assessing allegations of misconduct, lack of competence, ill health, or criminal convictions. It is vital to note that the aim of a fitness to practise hearing is not only to hold professionals accountable for their actions but also to offer support and rehabilitation when appropriate.

The General Dental Council undertakes fitness to practise hearings in relation to dentists. It states that by ‘fit to practise’ it means that a dentist has the required skills, knowledge, character, and health to practise their profession safely and effectively. In addition, questions around fitness to practise include any allegations concerning actions taken which could affect public confidence in dental professionals and their regulation. This may include matters not directly related to professional practise, for example, committing a criminal act or being dishonest in terms of their personal finances.

What is the process of a fitness to practise hearing?

The process of a fitness to practise hearing typically involves several stages. Initial concerns are reported to the regulatory body, which then conducts an investigation to gather evidence. If the evidence suggests that a hearing is necessary, one will be scheduled. During the hearing, both sides present their case, and witnesses, including experts (see below), may be called to testify. The panel, which may comprise of both professionals and laypeople, will evaluate the evidence, and make a decision. The decision can range from no action to suspension or removal from the profession.

Central to the process is the principle of fairness. People facing fitness to practise hearings have the right to legal representation and are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Moreover, the process aims to be transparent, allowing the public to have confidence in the regulatory system. Decisions are typically published to uphold accountability and provide guidance for similar cases in the future.

What are the challenges involved in fitness to practice hearings?

A fitness to practise hearing must strike the right balance between protecting the public and supporting professionals. In cases where misconduct or incompetence is proven, appropriate sanctions are necessary to maintain the credibility of the profession. However, there is also a recognition that, in the real world, people make mistakes or face personal challenges that impact their workplace performance. In such cases, rehabilitation and support programs might be more effective than severe punitive measures.

What is an expert witness’s role in fitness to practice hearings?

In fitness to practise hearings in England and Wales, expert witnesses play a crucial role in providing specialised knowledge, insights, and opinions to help regulatory bodies, panels, and tribunals make informed decisions regarding the conduct, performance, or health of a professional. Expert witnesses, who have years of experience in their field, offer an objective and unbiased assessment of the issues that must be decided on by providing the following:

  • Providing Technical Expertise – expert witnesses bring a deep understanding of the technical aspects and standards within the healthcare and dentistry professions. They can explain complex concepts, procedures, and protocols in a clear and comprehensible manner to the panel, which might include non-expert members.
  • Evaluating Standards of Care – in healthcare and dentistry-related fitness to practise hearings, experts assess whether the professional in question adhered to the appropriate standards of care. They can provide insights into whether the actions of the person were in line with established protocols and guidelines.
  • Identifying Competence – expert witnesses can assess a professional’s competence and whether their actions met the expected level of skill and knowledge for their role.
  • Offering Opinions on Causation – in cases where the professional’s actions are alleged to have caused harm or adverse outcomes, expert witnesses can provide opinions on the causative factors, helping the panel understand the link between the professional’s conduct and the outcome.
  • Addressing Ethical and Professional Issues – experts can provide insights into ethical and professional issues within the field. They can provide information concerning whether the actions of the professional breached ethical standards or violated the professional code of conduct.
  • Assisting with Decision-Making – expert witnesses do not make the final decision, but their testimony and opinions provide valuable information to the panel or tribunal responsible for deciding the outcome of the hearing. The panel may also consider the expert’s analysis when determining the appropriate course of action to take against the professional.
  • Helping the panel understand technical issues – expert witnesses can assist with helping the panel understand highly technical matters and how they relate to the case at hand so the members can make well-informed decisions.
  • Strengthening Public Confidence – the presence of expert witnesses reinforces the credibility and transparency of the hearing process. Their independent and authoritative assessments contribute to the public’s confidence in the regulatory body’s ability to fairly evaluate professional conduct.

Our healthcare expert witnesses

Healthcare expert witnesses bring valuable insights and knowledge to fitness to practise hearings in England and Wales. Their expertise aids the decision-making process, helps maintain high professional standards, and ensures the fairness and credibility of the regulatory process.

At Expert Court Reports, we have a team of experts with a wealth of experience who can provide written reports and oral evidence at fitness-to-practice hearings.

Our areas of expertise are as follows:

How can Expert Court Reports Ltd help?

Expert Court Reports provides expert witnesses and medico-legal court reports for solicitors, barristers and other agencies, including the police, probation services, prisons, and third-sector organisations, as well as private clients.

To discuss any issues raised in this article, please call us on 01865 587865, email office@expertcourtreports.co.uk, or request a call by completing our online form.