On 20 November 2015, at South Essex Magistrates Court you were convicted of:
1. Driving a mechanically propelled vehicle, in a public place, on the 10 March 2015, whilst unfit through drugs, contrary to section 4(1) of the Road Traffic act 1998 and schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders act 1988.
2. By reason of your conviction as set out at paragraph 1, your fitness to practise as a Radiographer is impaired.
1. The Registrant is, and was at all material times, registered in the Radiographer part of the HCPC Register under number RA69825.
2. On 20 November 2015 at South Essex Magistrates Court the Registrant was convicted of driving a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place, on 10 March 2015, whilst unfit through drugs, contrary to section 4(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1998 and schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.
3. The Registrant was disqualified from driving for a period of 18 months and ordered to pay a fine and costs.
Decision on facts
4. The Panel saw a certified copy of the Register from the South Essex Magistrates Court and heard the Registrant admit that he had been convicted on his plea of guilty on that date, which was the date fixed for trial. It also heard submission from Ms Williams and the Registrant and received advice from the Legal Assessor, which it accepted.
5. The Panel found this Particular proved.
6. Before considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise had been impaired by the conviction, it heard evidence from the Registrant about the circumstances of the events giving rise to the conviction and his conduct since.
7. There was no dispute that the Registrant had driven his car on 10 March 2015 across a garage forecourt where he had struck a parked car a glancing blow and driven off. The driver of the parked car had pursued him and confronted him. Police had been called and found him to be unsteady on his feet and his speech slurred. He was arrested and subsequent blood tests revealed that there were 6 substances in his blood.
8. The Registrant told the tribunal that he had obtained these drugs, none of which were illegal at the time, over the internet and taken them in the days before he drove to help him overcome health related issues.
9. He recognised that it was irresponsible to take drugs obtained in this way and then drive a car. Nevertheless, he did not believe that these drugs had affected his ability to drive on this occasion because he felt well when he started to drive. He had not realised that he had struck another car until his brother told him and the other driver approached him.
10. The Registrant said that he was in the state described by the police because of panic and anxiety brought on by the aggressive behaviour of the other driver when he confronted the Registrant. He added that he felt in his heart that he was innocent and had only pleaded guilty because he had been advised to so. He added that he realised that it was not in his interests to claim innocence.
11. The Panel assessed that the Registrant was subjectively an honest witness, who was prepared to say things he recognised were contrary to his interests. Nevertheless the Panel considered that the evidence before it of the presence of a number of drugs, the fact of hitting a parked car, that the Registrant was not aware of the accident, and his unsteadiness and slurred speech, taken together, showed the Registrant was not fit to drive. The Panel found that his evidence was not deliberately misleading but the result of his lack of understanding and insight into the effect of drugs on his ability to drive, even if he did not feel their effects.
Decision on impairment
12. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired by his conviction.
13. The Panel is aware that this is a matter for its own professional judgement. In reaching its decision, the Panel had regard to the conduct of the Registrant, the nature, circumstances and gravity of the conviction and the critically important public policy issues, in particular the need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour expected of a registered professional.
14. The Panel first considered the personal component of the Registrant’s fitness to practise. The Panel has noted that although he initially denied the offences, the Registrant entered a plea of guilty, albeit without accepting his guilt.
15. Nevertheless, the Registrant repeated, in a manner which the Panel found convincing, that he now understood that taking drugs obtained from the internet was thoroughly irresponsible and wrong and he would not do it again. In addition the Registrant adduced evidence that he had sought proper medical help to deal with his health related issues and would seek further advice should his condition change.
16. Having regard to this evidence the Panel was satisfied that there was no longer a significant risk that the Registrant would repeat this conduct.
17. The Panel also considered the public component of his fitness to practise. The Panel considered whether the Registrant’s conviction, having regard to the nature, gravity and circumstances was likely to undermine public confidence in the profession so that a finding of impairment was required to restore that confidence and uphold proper standards of conduct.
18. The Panel decided that the nature of the conviction, the manner of the Registrant’s driving, the danger to other road users implicit in the circumstances of the offence giving rise to the conviction and his irresponsibility in taking drugs obtained on the internet without ensuring that he was safe to drive, taken together, are likely to undermine public confidence in the profession so that a finding of impairment is necessary.
19. Accordingly, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired.
Decision on sanction
20. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Williams and from the Registrant on the issue of sanction. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy.
21. The Panel is aware that the purpose of sanction is not to be punitive. Having found that there was no evidence that the Registrant posed a threat to service users or of reoffending in the future, the Panel must determine what sanction to impose in the wider public interest which includes the deterrent effect on other registrants, the reputation of the profession and public confidence in the regulatory process.
22. The Panel had regard to the following mitigating factors:
a) the conviction related to conduct over a relatively short period
b) the Registrant plead guilty
c) the Registrant has demonstrated insight into his conduct and the impact it could have on public confidence in the profession
d) the Registrant has taken appropriate steps to ensure that his conduct is unlikely to be repeated.
e) the Registrant has fully engaged in the regulatory process;
23. The Panel has also considered the main aggravating factor, which is that the Registrant put members of the public at risk by the conduct which gave rise to the conviction.
24. The Panel considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity. The Panel considered that to take no action would not be appropriate given the nature of the conviction.
25. The Panel next considered a Caution Order. It had careful regard to paragraph 22 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy, which provides:
“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.”
26. In this case the Panel is satisfied that Registrant’s conviction represents conduct that is isolated and limited and fulfils the conditions set out in paragraph 22.
27. The Panel decided that meaningful Conditions of Practice Order could not be formulated in this case because the conduct which gave rise to the conviction was not related to his clinical work.
28. The Panel found that the risk of repetition was low because the Registrant had obtained appropriate medical advice and developed insight into how irresponsible his conduct had been. Accordingly, and following the same guidance, the Panel was satisfied that suspension from practice would be disproportionate.
29. Accordingly the Panel decided to impose a Caution Order.
30. Having concluded that a Caution Order is the appropriate and proportionate order to make, the Panel considered the duration of the Caution Order. The Panel balanced the need to send a message to other registrants and the public that the Registrant’s conduct was not acceptable with the mitigating factors highlighted above and the evidence that the Registrant had developed insight, sought help and taken steps to eliminate the risk of repetition.
31. The Panel followed the advice in paragraph 23 of the ISP which provides that “as Panels must consider sanctions in ascending order, the starting point for a caution is 1 year and a panel should only impose a caution for a longer period if the facts of the case make it appropriate to do so”. The Panel decided that 1 year would not be sufficient to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct and notwithstanding the mitigating factors in this case, a period of 2 years is required.