The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) has lost an appeal against a General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) sanction it argued was too lenient in the case of a pharmacist accused of antisemitism.

In Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care v General Pharmaceutical Council & Anor [2024] EWHC 577 (Admin) (14 March 2024), the GPhC’s Fitness to Practise Committee (“the Committee”) found that the registrant had committed misconduct which impaired his fitness to practise and imposed a warning by way of sanction.

The background to the case involves comments made by Nazim Hussain Ali, a registered pharmacist, stand-up comedian and political activist. In 2017, the Al Quds Day rally was held on 18 June, four days after the fire at Grenfell Tower, which resulted in 72 deaths. Participants marched from Duchess Street along Regent Street, Oxford Street and Duke Street to Grosvenor Square. Mr Ali addressed the rally at length using a loudhailer and led chants. There were interjections from counter-demonstrators supportive of Israel. 

Subsequent criminal proceedings (which were ultimately discontinued) were not the only consequence of Mr Ali’s comments. He was also subject to disciplinary proceedings brought by the GPhC before the Committee in respect of four unscripted comments:

a. ‘It’s in their genes. The Zionists are here to occupy Regent Street. It’s in their genes, it’s in their genetic code.’

b. ‘European alleged Jews. Remember brothers and sisters, Zionists are not Jews.’

c. ‘Any Zionist, any Jew coming into your centre supporting Israel, any Jew coming into your centre who is a Zionist. Any Jew coming into your centre who is a member for the Board of Deputies, is not a Rabbi, he’s an imposter.’

d. ‘They are responsible for the murder of the people in Grenfell. The Zionist supporters of the Tory Party.

A GPhC fitness to practise committee decided that comments (a) and (b) were offensive but not antisemitic and comments (c) and (d) were both antisemitic and offensive. They went on to find that the comments amounted to serious misconduct, which impaired Mr Ali’s fitness to practise. The Committee imposed a warning by way of sanction. 

The PSA appealed the sanction on the grounds that:

  1. a warning was an insufficient sanction where:
  2. the Committee wrongly dismissed the option of imposing conditions of practice on the Registrant; and
  3. the Committee failed to give sufficient reasons for its decision.
UK Fitness to Practise News

Mr Justice Chamberlain commented in his ruling that:

“The way the GPhC put its case against Mr Ali had consequences for the findings the Committee could properly make. It would not have been fair for the Committee to attribute to Mr Ali a state of mind which had formed no part of the case against him. In any event, the Committee’s findings about Mr Ali’s state of mind were reached having had the benefit of hearing and observing him give evidence. Perhaps for these reasons, the Authority did not challenge the Committee’s findings about Mr Ali’s intention. 

“In those circumstances, the issues before me do not include the correctness of the Committee’s decision that comments (a) and (b) were not antisemitic. For the purposes of this appeal, I must assume that the line falls where the Committee drew it. It is important to emphasise that this is an assumption made for the purposes of this appeal. Nothing in this judgment should be taken as either an endorsement or a criticism of the Committee’s approach to this question.

“The question for this Court is therefore a limited one: given the Committee’s findings that Mr Ali had made four offensive comments, of which two were antisemitic, and that he had not intended to say anything that was either offensive or antisemitic, did the Committee err in any of the ways alleged by the Authority?”

Turning to the specific grounds for appeal, Chamberlain J said, in dismissing the appeal:

“It is right to note that Mr Ali’s comments have now been considered many times in the nearly seven years since 2017: he was initially prosecuted for them; there were proceedings before the Divisional Court challenging the discontinuance of that prosecution; and there were disciplinary proceedings, which have now resulted in two separate hearings before the High Court. No objective observer could doubt that the underlying misconduct was serious – and has been regarded as such by both the regulator and the courts.

“Ground 2 complains about the Committee’s rejection of the possibility of imposing conditions. In my view, there is nothing in this complaint. The Committee were entitled to take the view that conditions were “more suitable” for cases where the failing identified was in clinical practice or performance. The passage from the Guidance cited in para. 13 above is consistent with this view.

“The Committee did not say that conditions could never be appropriate in any other case. They found as a fact that there was “no risk whatsoever” of a repetition of the conduct found proven, notwithstanding Mr Ali’s stance at the hearing that the comments were not antisemitic, which they had well in mind. This was a finding open to them on the evidence. In those circumstances, it is difficult to see how the imposition of conditions would perform any useful function. It would not have been appropriate to impose a requirement to attend a course of the kind sometimes imposed in sexual misconduct cases, given the Committee’s finding that there was no risk of repetition.

“The complaint about inadequate reasons is not, in my judgment, made out. I have set out the Committee’s reasoning in some detail. They approached their task in a methodical and logical way. They made findings of fact for which they gave comprehensible reasons. They explained the inferences they drew from these findings. Although they attributed greater significance than they should have done to one of their findings, their conclusions were adequately, and indeed amply, reasoned.”

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