General Optical Council (GOC) Lawyers
Defence Lawyers for Opticians
Clifford Johnston & Co. solicitors has a team of General Optical Council Lawyers with significant experience to defend you in disciplinary investigations and proceedings before the General Optical Council. We are based in Stockport and Manchester, albeit represent professionals across the UK.
We understand that being investigated by the GOC is a very difficult and stressful time for you. You will no doubt be worried about your career, your reputation and your livelihood. Our expert solicitors are available to assist and represent you from the initial referral to a Fitness to Practise Committee hearing.
What is the General Optical Council (GOC)
Most professionals are governed by a regulatory body. The GOC is an independent health and care regulator for the optical professions in the UK. Its core functions include:
- Setting standards for optical education and training, performance and conduct.
- Approving qualifications leading to registration.
- Maintaining a register of individuals who are qualified and fit to practise, train or carry on business as optometrists and dispensing opticians.
- Investigating and acting where registrants’ fitness to practise, train or carry on business is impaired.
How does the GOC investigation process work?
Anyone can complain or raise a concern about you, although they are usually raised by patients, members of the public, colleagues, employers or primary care organisations. The GOC can also instigate an investigation even if no concern has been raised.
The GOC use an ‘Acceptance Criteria’ to decide whether to accept a complaint as an allegation of impaired fitness to practise.
Section 13D Opticians Act 1989 states that you can be impaired by any of the following:
- Misconduct (the conduct complained of must be serious ie deplorable/reprehensible);
- deficient professional performance (except in the case of a student) ie unacceptably low professional performance;
- conviction or caution;
- acceptance of a conditional offer or agreement to pay a penalty;
- adverse physical or mental health; and/or g. determination of another body.
An allegation that your fitness to practise is, or may be impaired, can even relate to acts or omissions which occurred outside the United Kingdom or at a time when you were not registered.
The GOC will only open an investigation if a complaint meets the Acceptance Criteria.
Once the ‘Acceptance Criteria’ is met the GOC can do any of the following:
- open an investigation;
- refer your case to the Interim Orders Committee;
- close the complaint with no further action;
- close the complaint and refer on to another body.
Should the GOC open an investigation in respect of you, you may request a review of the decision.
You will be notified by the GOC when a complaint is received about your fitness to practise. They will obtain further evidence which may include statements from key witnesses and and clinical records.
Once the GOC have concluded their investigation, you will be sent all the evidence and you will be given 28 days to make a written response. Your response will be sent to the complainant for comment. Their comments will be sent back to you. A response is not mandatory, but this is a very important stage of the process so it is imperative that you contact a defence solicitor for optical professionals.
At this stage, tactical decisions must be made as to whether you should respond. Carefully drafted written submissions may result in your case going no further.
If the investigation concludes that the allegation falls within one or more grounds of the above grounds, the allegation(s) must be referred to the Case Examiners for consideration although any allegation relating to a conviction which has resulted in a custodial sentence must be referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee.
The Case Examiners may decide to close your case, in the public interest. The following types of cases may be closed:
- allegations which, except in exceptional circumstances, arise from events which occurred more than five years before the matter was brought to the attention of the GOC;
- allegations which are made by anonymous persons or by persons who have indicated that they do not wish to co-operate further;
- Any vexatious allegations.
Once they have considered all the evidence, including your submissions, the Case Examiners can:
- take no further action;
- take no further action but offer you advice about your future behaviour;
- give you a warning;
- ask for further investigations to be carried out;
- refer your case to the Investigation Committee where they are unable to reach a unanimous decision;
- refer you to the independent Fitness to Practise Committee (FTPC), which will usually hold a public hearing;
- direct that the FTPC urgently consider whether you should be made subject to an interim order.
If the Case Examiners are considering whether your case should be referred to the FTPC, they must consider the following questions:
- is there a realistic prospect of establishing that your fitness to practise is impaired to a degree that justifies action being taken against your registration?
- is there a realistic prospect of being able to prove the facts alleged against you, if the allegation is referred to the FTPC? and
- if the alleged facts were proved, are they so significant as to indicate that your fitness to practise is or may be impaired to a degree that justifies action being taken against their registration?
The Case Examiners deal with most cases, however, there are two scenarios in which cases must be referred to the Investigation Committee for further action.
- where they decide to refer you for a health and/or performance assessment;
- where they cannot agree about the appropriate disposal of your case.
What is the GOC Investigations Committee?
The Committee is held in private. You will not be permitted to attend. The Committee considers recommendations made by the Case Examiners that you undertake a performance or health assessment. The Committee also considers cases where the Case Examiners cannot agree on a disposal.
General Optical Committee Interim Orders?
A Case Examiner can direct that the Fitness to Practise Committee (FTPC) consider making an interim order against you.
An interim order can:
- suspend you from the register;
- place conditions on your registration.
Interim Orders can last up to 18 months and they are reviewed every six months and usually remain in place until the conclusion of the case.
Interim orders can only be imposed if the FTPC is satisfied that it is necessary for the protection of members of the public, is otherwise in the public interest or is in your interests.
You may only realise that you are being investigated by the GOC when you receive notice of an Interim Orders Panel hearing. Usually you will be given very little of the hearing so it is vital that you contact our expert GOC solicitors for expert legal advice.
What is an ‘Agreed Panel Disposal’?
Your case may be suitable for concluding without a contested hearing. In such cases, you and GOC will seek to agree joint submissions to the hearing panel on facts, ground(s) of impairment, current impairment and the appropriate outcome or disposal. This agreement will be set out in an Agreed Panel Disposal Report, which will be presented to the hearing committee.
What happens at Fitness to Practise Committee hearings?
The Committee will hear all the evidence. Once the FTPC has heard the evidence, it must prepare a written determination in respect of the following:
- whether the facts alleged have been found proved;
- whether, on the basis of the facts found proved, your actions amount to misconduct, deficient professional performance, or that you have adverse physical or mental health;
- whether the misconduct, conviction, deficient professional performance, or adverse physical or mental health, leads to a finding that your fitness to practise is currently impaired;
- what sanction (if any) is to apply;
- whether an immediate order should be imposed.
What sanctions can the Fitness to Practise Committee impose?
The FTPC will take into account aggravating and mitigating features together with any personal mitigation. Mitigation can include previous good character and good performance, insight, remorse, remediation and lapse in time since the incident. Aggravating features can include lack of insight, refusal to apologise for mistakes, lack of remediation and telling untruths during the hearing.
The FTPC can:
- remove you from the register (sometimes known as ‘striking off’ or ‘erasure’). This means that you will not be allowed to legally work as an optician;
- suspend you from the register for a period of 12 months. You will not be able to legally work as an optician during this time;
- conditional registration – this means that restrictions will be placed on your registration up to a period of 3 years;
- impose a fine of up to £50,000. This can be imposed in addition to any of the above.
Can I appeal a decision of the Fitness to Practise Committee?
Yes. FTPC decisions will only take effect after 28 days and once you have been given the opportunity to appeal to the High Court. You have 28 days from the date of the decision to submit an appeal.
However, if the FTPC has decided to remove your name from the register or that your registration be suspended, it may go on to consider whether your registration should be suspended immediately.
Will the conditions imposed on me by the GOC be reviewed?
Yes. Compliance with your conditions will be reviewed. A hearing will usually be held around 4-6 weeks before your conditions order expires to determine whether your fitness to practise is impaired.
Can I voluntarily remove myself from the register?
No. You cannot do this until the FTPC has made a final decision about the complaint.
How can we help?
Our specialist GOC solicitors can assist you at any stage during the entirety of your case; from the initial referral to the FTPC.
- guide you through each step of the process;
- prepare and draft written representations to the initial referral and throughout the investigation;
- collate evidence on your behalf
- represent you in relation to applications for an Interim Order;
- preparing you for FTPC hearings
- putting forward mitigation, in appropriate cases;
- advise you on appeals to the High Court
- draft written submissions in respect of ‘agreed panel disposals’;
- represent you at the police station should you find yourself being investigated by the police;
- represent you at Court if charged with any offences.
Why choose us?
We represent professionals across the UK. We will offer you a bespoke service, tailored to your individual needs. We pride ourselves on our client care, response times, tactical and astute legal advice and our desire to achieve a successful outcome for our clients. We do not believe that any other firm matches us in respect of the above.
We have the knowledge and expertise to assist you and we will ensure that everything that can be done, is done, to allow you to continue to practice.
Clifford Johnston & Co: Expert General Optical Council Lawyers