High Court Upholds Regulatory Tribunal's Decision in Dr. Shala Imani v General Dental Council: Key Issues of Hearsay Evidence, Dishonesty Test, and Appellate Review Addressed

Citation: [2024] EWHC 132 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Dr. Shala Imani v General Dental Council, the High Court of Justice delivered a detailed judgment that touched upon several key legal principles. The case centered around an appeal by Dr. Imani against the decision of the General Dental Council’s Professional Conduct Committee (PCC), which had suspended her registration for 12 months, based on findings of dishonesty and other professional misconduct. The appeal raised critical questions about the admissibility of hearsay evidence in professional disciplinary hearings, the application of the subjective test for dishonesty following the legal precedent set in Ivey v Genting Casinos, and the scope of an appellate court’s deference to factual findings and discretionary decisions made by a first instance tribunal.

Key Facts

Dr. Imani faced charges relating to improper claims made for dental treatments under NHS contracts, inaccurate record keeping, and failing to offer a patient NHS treatment opposed to a private contract. The PCC relied on a document, Schedule C, a compilation of hearsay evidence based on business records from NHS Business Services Authority (BSA). Dr. Imani’s appeal contested the admissibility of this hearsay evidence, the findings of dishonesty on several charges, and the resulting suspension sanction.

Admissibility of Hearsay Evidence

The court thoroughly examined the admissibility of hearsay evidence within regulatory proceedings, within the context of Rule 57 of the General Dental Council (Fitness to Practice) Rules 2006, and Sections 1, 4, and 9 of the Civil Evidence Act 1995. The court highlighted that while business records are generally admissible in civil proceedings, the fairness and interests of justice are central to deciding on admissibility in regulatory contexts, a concept underscored in cases such as Ogbonna, Bonhoeffer, and Thorneycroft.

Application of the Ivey Test for Dishonesty

The subjective test for dishonesty as established in Ivey was a significant point of discussion. The court re-emphasized that the subjective knowledge or belief of the individual regarding the facts must first be ascertained, after which the objective standards of honesty, as perceived by ordinary people, should be applied. The court scrutinized the PCC’s application of this test in assessing the appellant’s state of mind at the time when the claims were made.

Appellate Review of Factual Findings and Exercise of Discretion

The judgment reaffirmed the principles that an appellate court must have a high degree of deference to the factual findings and the exercise of discretion by a tribunal, especially when it relates to the credibility of witnesses. The principles outlined in Wasu and reaffirmed in cases such as Sastry and Byrne guided the court’s approach here, where they were reluctant to interfere with the decisions of the tribunal unless there was a clear justification.

Outcomes

After a meticulous review, the court upheld the PCC’s original findings. The court found no error of law or procedural irregularity in the PCC’s decision to admit Schedule C. It was determined that Dr. Imani had not met the burden of demonstrating that admitting the evidence was unfair or in contravention of Article 6(1) of the ECHR. Furthermore, the court supported the PCC’s application of the Ivey test and rejected claims of inconsistency in the PCC’s findings of dishonesty, which were grounded on the specific circumstances of each charge.

Conclusion

This judgment exemplifies the complexities surrounding the admissibility of hearsay evidence in professional disciplinary proceedings and revalidates the stringent standards that must be met for an appeal court to overturn factual findings of a tribunal, particularly in relation to witness credibility and discretionary decisions. The case stands as a reaffirmation of the subjective component of the Ivey test in ascertaining dishonest conduct and the restraint appellate courts must exercise when reviewing findings of regulatory bodies, which possess specialist insight into the professional standards in question.

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