Statement updated 12 January 2024
As a result of welcome challenge and feedback from a range of stakeholders, we identified that the information circulated to independent Committees in the Dental Professionals Hearings Service should incorporate the wider legal consideration around this issue. We have amended the information to include this, and to express more clearly the decision-making role of Committees. The statement below reflects this.
We know that the fitness to practise process is difficult and stressful, and we’re making improvements where we can, in the absence of regulatory reform. Many of our processes rest on complex and outdated legislation, the interpretation of which can be challenged and reviewed in the High Court. When this occurs it’s important that we explain the latest judgment and what it means for registrants, witnesses, hearings, committees and legal teams.
In a recent High Court judgment (Aga v GDC  EWHC 3208 (Admin)), the judge dismissed the registrant’s appeal against a substantive suspension order but also allowed a new ground of appeal during the course of the hearing.
We have considered the judgment and are intending to apply for permission to appeal. We have notified Practice Committees and other healthcare regulators of our intention.
Legislation that governs immediate and substantive suspension orders
Currently, Practice Committees (PCs) for the Dental Professionals Hearings Service and other healthcare regulators can impose both immediate and substantive suspension orders when they are satisfied that it is necessary to protect the public or is otherwise in the public interest or in the interests of the registrant. Each of these suspension orders is made as a result of a hearing and they are treated separately, as consecutive orders.
Looking specifically at the legislative detail related to the GDC, a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) can determine that a registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired and direct that their registration is suspended (section 27B of the Dentists Act 1984 (‘the DA’). The PCC will then consider whether an order for immediate suspension is necessary for the protection of the public or is otherwise in the public interest, or is in the interests of the registrant (section 30 of the DA). The substantive order takes effect when either the appeal period has expired and no appeal was brought or at the conclusion of the appeal (section 29 of the DA). The immediate order covers the period until the substantive order takes effect. The registrant may remain under the immediate order of suspension until the substantive order takes effect.
The GDC, in common with other healthcare regulators, considers immediate orders (s30 DA) as separate from substantive orders that result from a hearing (s27B DA), so that the section 30 order covers the period before the substantive order takes effect.
Providing information to inform decisions
When an immediate order is imposed, we provide registrants and legal advisors with clear information about the effect of an immediate suspension order so that they can take an informed decision about whether to appeal.
The recent ruling departed from the longstanding existing interpretation of the legislation. We need clarity on this point so that the regulatory framework, guidance and practice are unequivocally clear.
The only way to achieve clarification is through the Courts and this is what we are planning to do. We’ll provide a further update when there is more information to share.
Until then, we have informed independent Committees of the Dental Professionals Hearings Service that the GDC’s submission at hearings is likely to be that the existing guidance remains applicable, and we have drawn their attention to other higher court authorities on the matter. We have also reiterated that the substantive sanction, immediate order and/or any directions are a matter for the Practice Committee to determine in each case as they consider appropriate.