LONDON, November 30 /PRNewswire/ -- An appeal to the Privy Council against an RCVS Disciplinary Committee decision to strike off an Oxfordshire-based veterinary surgeon for false certification has been allowed, it was announced recently. Although the Committee's finding of disgraceful professional conduct had not been challenged, its subsequent sanction was deemed too harsh and was reduced to a six-month suspension.
At a hearing in January this year, Dr John Walker MRCVS, of Hook Norton Veterinary Surgeons near Banbury, was found guilty on two charges of serious professional misconduct after entering false vaccination information on two separate horse passports. He admitted to certifying that he had administered vaccinations for equine influenza and tetanus to two racehorses within the deadline stipulated by the Jockey Club (now the British Horseracing Authority), when he knew he had not met this deadline.
Dr Walker's appeal against the Committee's decision was heard by the Privy Council on 30 October 2007. In delivering their judgment last week (21 November), their Lordships stated that it was open to them "to decide whether the sanction of erasure was appropriate or necessary in the public interest, or was excessive and disproportionate."
Although emphasising the extreme importance of correctness of veterinary certificates for animal and human health, their Lordships suggested that it might not be appropriate to treat all cases of knowingly inaccurate veterinary certification in the same way. They cited previous cases of false veterinary certification which, in their view, merited the strict sanctions then imposed by the Disciplinary Committee, but felt that "the nature and circumstances of Dr Walker's offending place it in a significantly lower category of seriousness." In their view, Dr Walker was entitled to question why his sanction was so severe.
The Disciplinary Committee considered that Dr Walker's long experience and senior position in the horseracing world meant that he should have known the significance of his actions, however the Law Lords did not "follow this train of thought." Rather than contributing to a stricter sanction, their Lordships felt these factors reflected Dr Walker's "otherwise excellent professional service over a long period" and so should be considered in mitigation.
Their Lordships concluded that the ultimate sanction of removal from the Register was not required or appropriate, but that a suspension for six months would carry with it a significant financial penalty (due to loss of professional earnings) and signal a significant message to the profession and the public.
Gordon Hockey, Head of Professional Conduct and Assistant Registrar, commented: "In reducing Dr Walker's sentence to a six-month suspension, we note that the Privy Council agreed the charges found proved against Dr Walker were serious, but felt that the original sentence was too harsh."
"Before the Privy Council decision was made, the College had already announced that the Disciplinary Committee intended to produce guidance on decision making and indicative sanctions, to ensure transparency and consistency of approach. This new guidance will be finalised shortly and published online before the end of the year."
The Privy Council's judgment, including its decision on costs, will be available on its website in due course.
Notes for Editors
1. The RCVS is the regulatory body for veterinary surgeons in the UK and deals with issues of professional misconduct, maintaining the register of veterinary surgeons eligible to practise in the UK and assuring standards of veterinary education.
2. RCVS disciplinary powers are exercised through the Preliminary Investigation and Disciplinary Committees, established in accordance with Schedule 2 to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (the 1966 Act). The RCVS has authority to deal with three types of case:
a) Fraudulent registration
b) Criminal convictions
c) Allegations of disgraceful professional conduct
3. The Disciplinary Committee is a constituted judicial tribunal under the 1966 Act and follows rules of evidence similar to those used in a court of law.
4. A respondent veterinary surgeon may appeal a Disciplinary Committee decision to the Privy Council within 28 days of the date of the decision. If no appeal is received, the Committee's judgment takes effect after this period.
5. Further information, including the charges against Dr Walker and the Disciplinary Committee's findings and judgment can be found via http://www.rcvs.org.uk/disciplinary.
6. The Privy Council's full judgment and decision as to costs, will be available on its website in due course (http://www.privy-council.org.uk).
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