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This decision exemplifies the stricter approach the courts are now taking in disciplinary cases where the regulated person fails to attend a hearing.

The Appellant was a teacher who was dismissed for gross misconduct by her employer as a result of her failure to disclose that she was in a relationship with a man who was convicted of making and processing indecent images of children. She pursued an unfair dismissal claim in the employment tribunal, which held that, save in a procedural respect, the dismissal had not been unfair. She unsuccessfully appealed all the way to the Supreme Court: Reilly v Sandwell MBC [2018] UKSC 16.

The Appellant was also the subject of proceedings under the Teachers’ Disciplinary (England) Regulations 2012 which culminated in the Secretary of State’s decision to make a prohibition order preventing her from teaching. The order was made on the recommendation of a professional conduct panel (PCP) which held a hearing on allegations that arose from the failure to make disclosure. The PCP upheld the allegations and concluded that they amounted to unacceptable professional conduct and/or conduct that may bring the teaching profession into disrepute.

The Appellant appealed to the High Court against the prohibition order on two grounds: (1) that the PCP erred in proceeding with the hearing in her absence, and (2) that the PCP’s findings were unsustainable on the evidence.

Swift J rejected these arguments. Of particular interest is the analysis on the first ground, applying the Court of Appeal’s decisions in General Medical Council v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162 and General Medical Council v Hayat [2018] EWCA Civ 2796. 

Swift J held that the Appellant had been given more than ample opportunity to explain the circumstances of the illness that she said prevented her from attending the hearing, yet she provided no explanation. Her emails suggested she was seeking to avoid the disciplinary process rather than engage with it in the way to be expected of a qualified teacher. The PCP was entitled to conclude from those emails that she was unwilling rather than unable to engage with and participate in the disciplinary process. That was sufficient for the PCP to conclude that no good reason had been shown why the hearing should be adjourned and that, if an adjournment was allowed, there was no prospect that she would attend a future hearing.  

The judgment is available here.

Iain Steele acted for the Secretary of State.

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