Dental professional hearings
Stage one of a hearing - factual inquiry
During stage one, the factual allegations (the charge) listed in the notice of hearing will be considered by the committee.
The burden is on the GDC to prove the factual allegations against you on the balance of probabilities (the civil standard of proof). The GDC has to present evidence to satisfy the committee that it was ‘more likely than not’ that an alleged matter or event occurred. You do not have to prove anything.
Mentions of ‘you’ include your legal representative if you have one.
Preliminary applications and admissions
Both parties (the GDC and you or your representative) can make any preliminary applications or raise any preliminary matters of law which need to be addressed before the hearing begin.
Examples of preliminary matters include:
- a request to make an amendment to the wording of a charge
- a request to conduct part or all the hearing in private
- to discuss the admissibility of evidence.
Reading of the factual allegations and admissions
The chair of the committee will ask both parties whether the charge:
- should be read out (read aloud by the committee secretary) or
- can be incorporated into the record of proceedings (not read out, but automatically entered into the record as if it were).
You will then be asked whether you admit any of the factual allegations.
Presentation of the GDC’s case
The GDC’s case presenter will open the case for the GDC by:
- outlining the background circumstances to the factual allegations
- telling the committee about the evidence the GDC will be relying on to prove the allegations that remain, after any admissions you have made have been accepted by the committee.
The GDC case presenter will then present its evidence in support. This may involve calling witnesses to give oral evidence (under oath), including any expert witnesses, and presenting any documentary evidence.
If witnesses are called, the GDC’s case presenter will ask them questions. This is called ‘examination-in-chief’. After a witness’ examination-in-chief, you may cross-examine the witness. The GDC may then re-examine the witness, asking further questions, but only on matters that have arisen during the cross-examination of that witness.
The committee may also have questions for witnesses called by the GDC.
When all of the evidence has been presented, the GDC’s case presenter will close the GDC’s case.
Submission of no case to answer
At this stage you can make a submission of ‘no case to answer’, sometimes referred to as a ‘half-time submission’. At the start of your case you can make a submission on whether sufficient evidence has been presented by the GDC to prove the factual allegations. If you make a submission of no case to answer, the GDC’s case presenter will be given an opportunity to respond.
After the committee hears from both parties and receives legal advice from the independent legal adviser, parties and any members of the public will be asked to leave the hearing room so the committee can deliberate and reach a decision on your submission of no case to answer.
A successful submission of no case to answer would mean some, or all the factual allegations ‘fall away’ i.e. no longer form part of the GDC’s case against you. If all of the factual allegations fall away the hearing will not proceed.
If you don’t make a submission of no case to answer, or your submission is unsuccessful you can proceed to present your evidence in your case.
Presenting your case
You can open your case when the GDC’s case has been closed.
You can give oral evidence to the Committee (under oath) as part of your case:
- if represented, your representative will ask you questions about the factual allegations in dispute i.e. examination-in-chief
- if not represented, you’ll be asked by the chair of the committee what it is you want to say about the factual allegations.
- the GDC’s case presenter will be able to cross-examine you.
- the committee may also ask you questions.
You can present documentary evidence and call other witnesses to give oral evidence (under oath), including any expert witnesses as part of your case
If witnesses are called as part of your case, you can ask them questions (examination-in-chief) but this may not always be necessary as your witness’ main evidence should be contained in their witness statement. The GDC’s case presenter will also be able to cross-examine any witness you call, and the committee may also have some questions.
Once all the evidence has been presented, both parties will be given the opportunity to make closing submissions.
Closing submissions are an opportunity for both parties to summarise their cases based on the oral and documentary evidence they’ve presented. It is normally done verbally but closing submissions, or a summary of the submissions, can be given to the committee in writing.
Legal advice and the committee’s deliberations
After any closing submissions, the independent legal adviser will advise the committee on any considerations pertinent to their decision making.
Parties, and any members of the public, will then be asked to leave the hearing room. The committee remains to make its ‘findings of fact’.
The committee’s findings of fact
The committee’s ‘findings of fact’ is to decide whether, on the balance of probabilities, each of the factual allegations are proved.
When the committee has made its findings of fact, parties and any members of the public are invited back into the hearing room. The chair of the committee will then announce each outcome.
You’ll be provided with a written copy of the committee’s determination on the facts, including its reasons for each outcome. If some or all of the factual allegations are found proved, the hearing will move to stage two.
Stage two of a hearing - current impairment and sanction
The committee will take several decisions at stage two:
- Whether the facts found proved amount to misconduct, or deficient professional performance, or you have an adverse health condition
- If these are found proved, is your fitness to practise currently (at the time of the hearing) impaired due to the factual allegations found proved at stage one.
- If your fitness to practise is impaired, should any sanction be imposed on your registration.
Parties cannot challenge the factual allegations that have been found proved at this stage. Any evidence called, or submissions made, must relate to the issues of impairment and sanction only.
Your fitness to practise can be found to be impaired on one or more of the following grounds:
- Deficient professional performance.
- Adverse physical or mental health.
- Conviction or caution for a criminal offence.
- A determination by another regulatory body in or outside of the UK.
The grounds on which the GDC alleges that your fitness to practise is impaired will be specified in the notice of hearing.
When deciding on impairment and sanction (if relevant) the committee will:
- exercise its independent and professional judgment, and
- apply relevant legal principles and guidance, as advised by the independent legal adviser.
There is no standard or burden of proof at stage two.
Stage two can take several days to complete, depending upon the nature of the case and the complexities involved.
Mentions of ‘you’ include your legal representative if you have one.
Fitness to practise history and evidence
The GDC’s case presenter will inform the committee if you have an adverse fitness to practise history i.e. any case resulting in case examiners issuing a letter of advice or higher decision.
The GDC will present the evidence that it wishes to rely on relating to:
- the current impairment of your fitness to practise, and/or
- the sanction the GDC believes should be applied to your registration.
This can involve presenting documentary evidence or calling witnesses to give oral evidence (under oath), including any expert witnesses.
Any witnesses called by the GDC will answer questions from the GDC case presenter (examination-in-chief) and can be cross-examined by you. The Committee may also have questions.
At the conclusion of any evidence presented by the GDC, you can present any evidence you want to rely on to support your final submissions on current impairment of your fitness to practise and/or any sanction suggested.
On impairment of fitness to practise, the Committee are considering:
- public protection, and
- public interest.
With reference to public protection the committee will consider:
- the dental professional’s insight
- whether there is a risk of repetition, and
- has any remediation been carried
With reference to public interest the committee needs to ensure that confidence can be maintained in the dental professional and the GDC as a regulator.
You may wish to present evidence to the committee about:
- the steps you have taken to address the factors listed above
- any remorse you may feel about what has happened
- any mitigating circumstances you think are relevant.
If you have evidence from testimonial witnesses, this information will be considered by the committee at this stage. If you intend to submit testimonial evidence, please ensure the person providing this information has been made aware of the reasons why the testimony is required, and that the information they provide will be used at your hearing.
You can give further oral evidence to the committee (under oath) at this stage in the same manner as outlined at stage one e.g. to explain and demonstrate why you think your fitness to practise is not currently impaired.
You can present any relevant documentary evidence and call other witnesses to give oral evidence (under oath), including expert witnesses. Any witnesses you call can answer questions from you (examination-in-chief) and can be cross-examined by the GDC’s case presenter. The committee may also have questions for witnesses.
If there is no evidence to be presented at stage two, parties can move straight to making submissions to the committee on impairment and sanction.
Submissions on impairment and sanction
Both parties will have the opportunity to make submissions in relation to impairment and sanction.
The GDC’s case presenter will explain why the GDC considers your fitness to practise to be currently impaired. They may also make submissions about what sanction the GDC considers appropriate.
You will then be able to address the committee on impairment and sanction. You may want to explain:
- why you consider your fitness to practise is not impaired
- highlight any mitigating factors in your case
- make a suggestion of what sanction you consider to be appropriate and proportionate if your fitness to practise is found to be impaired.
When considering your submissions at stage two, you (or your representative) may find it helpful to look at the GDC guidance for the Practice Committees including Indicative Sanctions Guidance.
Legal advice and the committee’s deliberations
After submissions on current impairment and sanction have been made, the independent legal adviser will give legal advice to the Committee
Parties and any members of the public will then be asked to leave the hearing room. The Committee will remain to reach its determination on both current impairment and if relevant, any sanction.
Depending upon the nature of the case and the complexities involved, this part of the process may take several days to complete.
The Committee’s determination
When the Committee has made its determination, parties and any members of the public are invited back into the hearing room. The chair of the committee will then announce the Committee’s decision.
You’ll be provided with a written copy of the committee’s determination, which will include its reasons for the outcome. This will be the outcome in your case.
Any sanction imposed by the committee cannot take effect for 28 days after notice of the decision is serviced on you, or if an appeal is lodged until the appeal has been dealt with by the court.
If the committee imposes a sanction of conditions, suspension or erasure, there will be a further short process for the committee to decide whether it is necessary to take immediate action to restrict your registration during the 28-day appeal period. If this applies, the committee will invite the GDC’s case presenter and you to make submissions on this point. The GDC will make their submission first and you will then be given the opportunity to respond.
Any members of the public will be asked to leave the hearing room while the committee reaches its determination. The committee may decide to impose an immediate order on your registration, if your behaviour poses a risk to patients, or to maintain and protect public confidence in the profession.