22 September 2021

GOC's remote hearings protocol consultation

We have responded to the GOC's remote hearings protocol to support the fitness to practise process with the administration and progression of hearings as restrictive lockdown measures continue to ease.

Summary

The aim of the remote hearings protocol is to support all parties to the fitness to practise process with the administration and progression of hearings as the restrictive lockdown measures continue to ease. The College agree that most non-substantive events should be conducted remotely, however, given that these proposals are relatively new, we recommend assessing and monitoring the suitability of remote hearings on an ongoing basis, to ensure a fair process for registrants.

Read more about the consultation

Our response

1. To what extent do you agree that the updated protocol achieves our aim of balancing fairness to registrants while maintaining the focus on public protection?

Agree

2. To what extent do you agree with our expectations that most non-substantive events should be conducted remotely?

Agree

  • We agree that most non-substantive events should be conducted remotely. However, given that these proposals (and the associated video-conferencing technologies) are relatively new, it will be important to assess and monitor the suitability of remote hearings on an ongoing basis.

    Should ‘real-life’ experience suggest that remote hearings are not suitable (or fair) for one or all parties, there should be no hesitation in returning to physical hearings, or offering registrants an informed choice on remote vs physical hearings.

3. Is there anything unclear or missing in the updated protocol?

Yes.

  1. Section 7.25 states that:

    “The hearing will be recorded to ensure compliance with rule 60 of the FtP Rules. At present we use a transcriber, although we may take the decision to record via the Microsoft Teams application or other technology.”

    We believe it would be important that all parties are clearly informed well before the hearing, if it is decided that the hearing is to be recorded via Microsoft Teams or other technology. The knowledge that the hearing is being video recorded may unnerve some registrants, witnesses and other participants, and could impact on their willingness to provide evidence.
     
  2. Whilst the proposals make it clear that no other party is permitted to record the hearings (section 7.25) additional clarification may be needed on how the GOC intends to ensure and enforce this. In addition, remote hearings may result in larger numbers of the public wishing to attend – who would not have done so had it have been a physical meeting – and this may increase the likelihood of unwanted recordings.
     
  3. We note that there is no guidance for registrants or student registrants with physical disabilities who may want to attend hearings in person at a physical venue. Physical disabilities are only considered when the Committee decides whether there should be a remote hearing. We suggest adding the following guidance:

    “If the registrant, witness or other participant requires any reasonable adjustments due to a physical disability or other need which will support them taking part in a hearing in person at a physical venue, they should contact their liaison officer and/or the hearings team who will be able to assist.”

4. Are there any aspects of the updated protocol that could negatively impact on stakeholders or users with specific characteristics? (Please consider age, sex, race, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, caring responsibilities or any other personal characteristic(s).)

Yes.

Please see point 3 in response to question 3 above.

5. Are there any aspects of the updated protocol that could have a positive impact on stakeholders or users with specific characteristics? (Please consider age, sex, race, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, caring responsibilities or any other personal characteristic(s).)

 Yes.

The inclusion of guidance on remote hearings could have a positive impact on stakeholders with specific characteristics, in particular disability, pregnancy or maternity/paternity, and caring responsibilities, as it will offer them the opportunity to attend hearings if they cannot attend in person at a physical venue.

However, we reiterate our recommendation made under question 3, point 3, above.

6. Is there any other feedback about the updated protocol that you would like to tell us about?

Yes.

Whilst we welcome the proposals to hold remote hearings, we are concerned that the administration and preparation time to arrange these – along with the risk of technology failures at hearings themselves – may in fact result in hearings being delayed. These additional delays could negatively impact the physical and emotional wellbeing of both registrants and patients. We would welcome more details on how time estimates would be established and managed, and how potential further delays could be mitigated.

 

Submitted: September 2021

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