Wendy Hewitt represented the Respondents, both pharmacists, who were made subject to interim suspension orders in January 2017. Wendy successfully resisted the General Pharmaceutical Council (“GPhC”)’s application to the High Court for a further extension of the interim orders. Full costs were recovered on behalf of the Respondents.
Wendy was instructed by Kally Sahota at Sahota & Sahota Solicitors.
The Respondents are a married couple who jointly own three pharmacy businesses. In January 2016, officers from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (“MHRA”) found large quantities of controlled drugs at one of their premises. The Respondents did not have a Home Office licence for the wholesale supply of controlled drugs, but had held a wholesale dealer licence for a number of years. The Respondents were both arrested and interviewed in December 2016 on suspicion of having committed offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
The Respondents promptly notified the GPhC of the MHRA investigation. In January 2017 the GPhC’s Fitness to Practise Committee imposed interim orders of suspension on both Respondents, for the maximum period of 18 months. The orders were twice extended by the High Court by consent. The GPhC now sought a further extension of the interim suspension order from the High Court on 30 June 2020, initially for the maximum 12 months. The GPhC conceded during the hearing that a more appropriate application would be for an extension to the orders for 3 months.
No criminal charges have been brought against the Respondents. They remain under investigation, some 4 ½ years after their initial arrests.
High Court decision
The GPhC’s application was dismissed. Soole J held that it was no longer proportionate or in the public interest to continue the interim suspension orders.
The GPhC was not responsible for the MHRA’s delay in reaching a charging decision, but it had to share responsibility for the consequences of the delay. Soole J held that the GPhC had been insufficiently pro-active in pressing the MHRA for updates, for which it had provided no adequate explanation. The Respondents were entitled to their costs in full.
Regulators rightly take a serious view of allegations that healthcare professionals may be involved in criminal activity. Allegations made against pharmacists in relation to controlled drugs are likely to be extremely serious. Criminal investigations take time, and an interim order will often be necessary whilst those investigations take place.
However, the High Court has made clear that the seriousness of the allegations do not justify the indefinite prolongation of interim orders of suspension, and that regulators should not presume that an extension will be granted. In this case, the delay had been significant, and the Regulator had failed to provide evidence as to why the extension should be granted.
Wendy is Head of the Professional Discipline and Regulatory Team at 5SAH. She practices exclusively in professional discipline and regulatory work. Wendy mainly represents regulated individuals in the medical and healthcare professions, and in teaching.
She specialises in what may broadly be characterised as cases concerning fitness to practise and unacceptable professional conduct/conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute. Her clients are frequently doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, practitioner psychologists, audiologists, occupational therapists, teachers, and students - although this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Amy joined 5SAH after completing an 18-month pupillage at a leading set of criminal chambers. She prosecutes and defends in a wide range of criminal cases, and has represented regulators and registrants in fitness to practise hearings. Amy is keen to extend her practice into Chambers’ other areas of practice, in particular extradition. She is supervised by Ben Keith who is a specialist in Extradition and International law.