22 December 2011
The Privy Council this week [20 December 2011] dismissed the appeal of a Lincolnshire veterinary surgeon against the RCVS Disciplinary Committee’s decision to strike him off the Register in January 2011 for serious professional misconduct.
Their Lordships supported statutory reform so as to enable members of the disciplinary committees to be chosen from outside the Council
At a two-week Disciplinary Committee (DC) hearing in January, Joseph Lennox Holmes of Waltham Veterinary Clinic, Grimsby, was found to have advised on and undertaken surgical procedures without sufficient clinical grounds or consideration of alternative treatment options; failed to obtain the informed consent of his clients; undertaken procedures outside his area of competence; failed to refer or discuss the option of referral to a specialist; and, failed to provide his patients with adequate pain relief.
These findings related to two separate complaints and a total of 31 charges, of which 28 were found to amount to serious professional misconduct.
The Appeal was heard by Baroness Hale, Lord Wilson and Lord Kerr on 1 November 2011, and their judgment was delivered on Tuesday by Lord Wilson.
There were two principal parts to Mr Holmes’s appeal: firstly, that RCVS procedures for investigating and determining complaints were biased against him and infringed his human right to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal; and, secondly, a number of complaints about the DC’s findings and conclusions.
Their Lordships recognised that the College’s regulatory framework was constrained by the existing Veterinary Surgeons Act and “support[ed] statutory reform so as to enable members of the disciplinary committees to be chosen from outside the council”; but, they were satisfied that the College had made “strenuous attempts” to ensure its disciplinary procedures were fair and in accordance with human rights legislation.
They also remarked that the College had made “elaborate efforts” to separate the membership and work of the three RCVS Committees that produce guidance, investigate complaints and adjudicate on complaints, respectively.
Their Lordships considered that “a fair-minded and informed observer [having considered all the facts] would not conclude there was a real possibility that the DC was biased against Mr Holmes”.
The only sanction appropriate to Mr Holmes’ “catalogue of egregious misconduct” was the removal of his name from the Register
Their Lordships also dismissed all of the ‘deficiencies’ that Mr Holmes had sought to identify in the DC’s findings and conclusions.
They generally preferred the College’s evidence, witness accounts and expert witness testimony, and felt the DC had correctly considered the multiple charges before it.
They also found that the expertise of the DC in assessing the standards of the profession was “entitled to substantial respect” and agreed that the only sanction appropriate to Mr Holmes’ “catalogue of egregious misconduct” was the removal of his name from the Register.
“[This sanction] was the only disposal which could properly reflect the primary need to serve both the interests of animal welfare and the reputation of the veterinary profession,” they concluded.
Their Lordships' decision is now subject to approval by the Crown, following which, Mr Holmes would be removed from the Register and no longer entitled to practise as a veterinary surgeon.