The RCVS Council has decided, by majority vote, to consult with the professions on possible changes to the disciplinary system.

At the meeting, which took place last Thursday, Council members were asked to decide how to proceed with three specific proposals on reforming the disciplinary system:

  1. A change to the standard of proof used in deciding whether or not the facts of a case are proven from the current criminal standard (‘beyond all reasonable doubt’), to the civil standard (‘on the balance of probabilities’). Under the proposals, the decision as to whether the proven facts amount to professional misconduct would remain as currently.
  2. The introduction of a ‘Charter Case Protocol’ in which cases that meet the threshold for a full Disciplinary Committee hearing, but which might be likely to attract a low sanction, can be concluded without a public hearing. Suitable cases may include those where factors such as insight or remediation have been shown. This, says the College, means that instead of a disciplinary hearing, certain cases might be concluded in a more proportionate manner, for example via a system of publicly-issued warnings and/or advice.
  3. To end the current system of initial review of complaints via a Case Examiners Group with the more complex of these cases then reviewed subsequently by the Preliminary Investigation Committee. Instead a single stage review process with complaints considered by a number of ‘mini-Preliminary Investigation Committees’ with three members would be used. This, says the College, would simplify the system and potentially speed up the concerns investigation and disciplinary processes, thus reducing the stress of the process on all parties. Full Preliminary Investigation Committee meetings (involving five Committee members) would still take place to consider the most complex cases.

Acknowledging some of the concerns that have been raised about changing the standard of proof, RCVS Registrar Eleanor Ferguson said: “The RCVS is now one of just a few regulators that still uses the criminal standard of proof in determining the facts of a case. We have sought these changes as part of our ongoing aim to develop a compassionate and forward-looking disciplinary system with the protection of the public absolutely at its heart, whilst also acknowledging the huge toll the process takes on the mental health of veterinary professionals.

"Research that we carried out into the impact of changing the standard of proof indicated that it would not lead to a major increase in cases being referred from the Preliminary Investigation Committee to the Disciplinary Committee. Importantly the number is likely to be very low because the standard of proof only applies to proving the facts of a case; the judgement as to whether proven facts amount to serious professional misconduct will follow the same process as at present.

"We estimated that during 2019, there could have been just two more cases brought to DC under a altered standard of proof, with an additional three cases that were borderline but probably wouldn’t have proceeded any further. Conversely, we also estimated that three cases that did go to DC during 2019 would probably not have done, had the ‘Charter Case Committee’ option been available.

"Ultimately, the aim of the RCVS in regulating the veterinary professions is to protect the public and animal welfare as well as upholding the reputation of the professions. We believe these changes will better achieve that aim."

The consultation on whether to change the standard of proof as well as to introduce the Charter Case Protocol and ‘mini-PICs’ is now planned for later this year.

Further information about the proposals, including some of the arguments for and against changing the standard of proof, can be found in the papers for RCVS Council at: www.rcvs.org.uk/who-we-are/rcvs-council/council-meetings/4-june-2020/ (pages 70-97).


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