The Professional Standards Authority for Health And Social Care v The General Pharmaceutical Council & Anor [2021] EWHC 1692 (Admin) (23 June 2021)

Mr Nazim Ali is the pharmacist who told a crowd at the Al Quds Day March in June 2017 in London that “They are responsible for the murder of the people in Grenfell. The Zionist supporters of the Tory Party” amongst other remarks defaming “Zionists”. 

In relation to the above, disciplinary proceedings were brought against him, alleging that he had used antisemitic and offensive words during a public speech. A Fitness to Practise Committee (“the FPC”) found that the words he had used had not been antisemitic, but that they had been offensive, that this amounted to misconduct, that Mr Ali’s fitness to practise was impaired, and that he should be given a warning.

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) decided that the General Pharmaceutical Council’s FPC erred in its approach and has referred the decision to the High Court.  It argued that the FPC took the wrong approach when deciding whether the words were antisemitic. Instead of considering the objective meaning of the words in their context, it took account of (a) Mr Ali’s subjective intention, and (b) Mr Ali’s good character as being factors relevant to an assessment of the meaning of the words. Moreover, it considered individual phrases in isolation without taking account of their cumulative impact.

The General Pharmaceutical Council agreed that the FPC erred in its approach.

The judgement in this appeal was published on 23 June 2021.  Mr Justice Johnson agreed “that in seeking to apply an objective test it [the FPC] erred by taking account of what it considered to be Mr Ali’s intention.”

Johnson J continued:

“I therefore agree that the FPC erred in each of the respects suggested in the grounds of appeal. It wrongly took account of Mr Ali’s intention when assessing whether his language was objectively antisemitic. It wrongly took account of his character when assessing whether his language was objectively antisemitic. And it erroneously failed to assess whether the remarks, considered cumulatively, were objectively antisemitic, as opposed to whether each remark in isolation was antisemitic.”

Mr Ali sought to argue that “even if his language is found to be antisemitic a warning would be appropriate” however Johnson J disagreed saying:

“This case does, however, engage significant questions of public confidence. It is vitally important that all sections of the community are able to place trust and confidence in pharmacists.”

He noted that the “Public confidence is an important consideration when considering sanction” and “that the FPC is far better placed than the court to make an assessment as to the appropriate sanction to be imposed.”

He consequently remitted the matter back to the GPhC FPC with the following instruction:

“In determining whether the Council has established that the remarks are antisemitic, the FPC should assess the objective meaning of the remarks applying the test that it previously identified (as set out at paragraphs 10 and 11 above, but omitting the last sentence of the quote at paragraph 10). In assessing the meaning of the words it should take account of their meaning taken as a whole, and it should not take account of:

(1) Mr Ali’s subjective intention;

(2) Mr Ali’s good character;

(3) The reaction of other audiences in other contexts.”

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