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High Court confirms that regulatory supervision must be direct

05/07/2016
Abdul-Razzak v General Pharmaceutical Council [2016] EWHC 1204 (Admin) A recent decision of the High Court serves as a warning to regulated professionals that they must adequately supervise the work of those for whom they are responsible, and cannot rely on the perceived experience of their assistants to dilute their own responsibilities. It also underlines the importance of the Court showing proper deference to specialist tribunals in assessing fault within their profession.

Written by Louis Muncey, Vacation Scheme Student

Abdul-Razzak v General Pharmaceutical Council [2016] EWHC 1204 (Admin)

A recent decision of the High Court serves as a warning to regulated professionals that they must adequately supervise the work of those for whom they are responsible, and cannot rely on the perceived experience of their assistants to dilute their own responsibilities. It also underlines the importance of the Court showing proper deference to specialist tribunals in assessing fault within their profession.

Mr Abdul-Razzak was referred to the General Pharmaceutical Council's ('GPhC') Fitness to Practice Committee ('the Committee') following an undercover investigation that produced footage of the unlawful supply of prescription-only medicine in the pharmacy for which he was responsible. The film showed three instances where the reporter was able to obtain medicines without a required prescription from Mr Abdul-Razzak's assistants, whom he had allegedly failed to supervise adequately. After viewing the footage, the Committee concluded that despite being on duty, he had made minimal enquiry into his assistants' actions and was present during one transaction, though took little interest. The Committee found Mr Abdul-Razzak's fitness to practice was impaired by virtue of his misconduct and suspended him for six months.

Mr Abdul-Razzak appealed, submitting that (1) the Committee had set too high a standard for him that did not reflect his reasonable presumption of the integrity of his experienced counter assistants; (2) his fitness to practice was not currently impaired as he had since been conducting transactions without fault; and (3) his sanction was disproportionate.

In a judgment where the Court highlighted the deference it will generally show to expert specialist tribunals, the appeal was dismissed on all three grounds.

In relation to the first ground, the Court noted that the supervisory duty of a responsible pharmacist could not be discharged by virtue of the experience of their assistants – the duty of the supervising pharmacist was a vital and pro-active responsibility which was significant in ensuring patient safety. The standard set for Mr Abdul-Razzak was necessary to protect against the unlawful supply of prescription-only drugs.

In dismissing the second ground of appeal, the Court noted Mr Adbul-Razzak's lack of insight and also the Committee's role as a "specialist tribunal" whose understanding of what the profession expects of its members was to be held in high regard. The Court also had regard to the expertise of the Committee in dismissing the third ground. The Court held that the Committee had been entitled to suspend Mr Abdul-Razzak and to give greater weight to the public interest and maintaining confidence in the profession than to the interests of the individual pharmacist.

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