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Sanctions, Proportionality and Protecting the Reputation of the Profession

The Purpose of Sanctions

Each of the healthcare regulators has a provision in their legislation to allow for the imposition of sanction on an individual healthcare professional’s registration which would follow a finding by the Fitness to Practise Committee. The purpose of sanctions is, in general, termed to protect the public interest. A similar approach has been adopted in the UK as in this jurisdiction. The leading case in the UK is Bolton v The Law Society 1994. In Bolton, the court stated there were two principle purposes to the imposition of a sanction;

  1.  to ensure that the offender does not have the opportunity to repeat the offense and
  2. to maintain the representation of the professions. Bolton concerned a solicitor who had been found guilty by the Law Society for matters of dishonesty. However, the same approach has been adopted in other professions and in Garfoot v GMC 2002, the court in that case described disciplinary proceedings or the purpose of disciplinary proceedings as being; “to ensure the protection of the public, the maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the maintenance of appropriate standards in the medical professions.”


Recent High Court Decision

Recently, in the High Court in Ireland In the Matter of Patrick Enright, the Law Society of Ireland sought to have Mr Enright’s name struck off the Role of Solicitors. This followed a finding by the Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal and the recommendation by the Tribunal that his name be struck off. The facts of the case are that Mr Enright, following his qualification as a solicitor in 1986, went to work for an American Medical Insurance Company located in Kerry. He left that company in 1994 and established his own legal practise in Castleisland in County Kerry. It transpired that he had defrauded the American Insurance Company and was charged with acts of forgery under the Forgery Act 1913. The criminal proceedings commended in August 1996 and following a series of challenges and appeals were delayed until they eventually came on for hearing for the Tralee Circuit Court in June 2013. Mr Enright was convicted to a custodial sentence of 12 months. During the period that the criminal proceedings were ongoing and the various appeals, Mr Enright had conducted his practise in Castleisland with complete propriety. However, following his conviction, he served his sentence and had not practised since he was released from prison in 2014.
The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Kelly, agreed with the Law Society’s submission and said that the sanction sought was “the most fundamental of all “In order to maintain the reputation of the profession and sustain public confidence in the integrity of the profession. The President went to say that he “…shared (the Society’s) …opinion that it is necessary that Mr Enright’s name be struck from the roll of solicitors. A suspension from practice would not be adequate.”
The President of the High Court noted that while he was satisfied that there was no risk of the Solicitor re-offending, and while sanction was not intended to be punitive, the sanction was necessary to uphold the integrity of the profession in the eyes of the public.