Mr Christopher D James

: Chiropodist / podiatrist

: CH33511

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 19/12/2017 End: 17:00 19/12/2017

: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

Whilst registered as a Chiropodist, you were convicted of:
1. On Friday 03 April 2015 at Farnham in the county of Surrey drove a motor vehicle, namely a silver Rover FVS 60.00 index L315LTT on a road namely Crondall Lane, after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in your breath, namely 79 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, exceeded the prescribed limit. Contrary to section 5(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.

2. By reason of that conviction as set out in paragraph 1, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters
Service and proceeding in absence
1. The Registrant did not appear nor was he represented. The Panel was satisfied that good service had been effected.

2. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Vignoles applied for the hearing to be conducted in the absence of the Registrant on the basis that he had been notified of the date, time and location of the hearing at his registered address. Ms Vignoles submitted that the Registrant had waived his right to appear and that it was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed expeditiously.

3. Having considered the revised HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Proceeding in Absence’ and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor on the case of GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162 (“the fair, economical, expeditious and efficient disposal of allegations against medical practitioners is of real importance”), the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had received reasonable notice of today’s hearing and had waived his right to appear. The Registrant had not applied for an adjournment. There was no indication that he would attend at a later date if today’s hearing were to be adjourned. The Panel noted the overriding public interest in dealing with matters in a timely manner and noted that this case related to a conviction in 2015 that was not in dispute. In balancing the Registrant’s interest and the public interest, the Panel decided that the matter should be heard in the absence of the Registrant.

Background
4. The Registrant is a Chiropodist/Podiatrist. On 3 April 2015, he was driving his vehicle, a silver Rover registration L315 LTT on Crondall Lane, Dippenhall, Farnham, Surrey, when he lost control of the vehicle and crashed it into a wall and the car turned over onto its roof. The accident occurred in the early hours of the morning before 4.00am.  His girlfriend was a passenger in the car and she sustained bruising and cuts. He abandoned the car in the road. He was subsequently arrested at home at 6.39 am, when he initially denied driving the car and said that he had drunk only lager. The proportion of alcohol in his breath was found to be 79 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. The legal limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. When interviewed under caution, he told the police that he had drunk lager before the accident and vodka after the accident. He originally pleaded not guilty to the offence.

5. On 16 July 2015, he pleaded guilty to the offence of driving with excess alcohol, contrary to Section 5(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, at Staines Magistrates’ Court.  He was fined £600, disqualified from driving for 20 months, and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £400.

Decision on grounds and impairment
6. The Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Vignoles on behalf of the HCPC. She submitted that the memorandum of conviction proved the fact of the conviction itself and drew the Panel’s attention to the facts of the case, including the Registrant’s initial denial of having driven the car, abandoning the car in the road and the injury to the passenger.

7. There were no specific submissions from the Registrant but the Panel considered the email from the Registrant dated 8 June 2016, in which he declared his conviction to the HCPC, and his email dated 16 July 2016, in which he gave his own account of the incident and expressed his sorrow and a wish to resume his career in podiatry. He said he had stopped working as a Podiatrist for NHS Solent and found alternative work as a manager of a public house, because he assumed that his registration would be automatically cancelled by reason of his conviction. He also stated that he had booked a rehabilitation course but there was no confirmation of whether he had attended. There was no further update from the Registrant.

8. The Panel had regard to the HCPTS Note on ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’ and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor on the burden of proof and the issue of impairment. 

9. The Panel found the Memorandum of the Conviction to be conclusive proof of the conviction and the underlying facts. 

10. In considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired, the Panel first considered the personal component. Whilst this conviction did not relate directly to his professional practice, the Panel was troubled by the circumstances of the incident, including the Registrant’s initial denial that he was the driver, the injuries to his passenger, the evidence of his varying versions of events in the aftermath of the incident, and his abandonment of the car in the road in middle of the night.

11. The Panel noted that the Registrant had pleaded guilty in 2015, that he had referred himself to the HCPC and expressed remorse in his email of July 2016, but the Panel was concerned about the degree of insight and the lack of engagement or any up-to-date information about the Registrant, who appeared not to have practised as a Podiatrist since 2015. 

12. The Panel determined that the Registrant’s conviction for the offence damaged public confidence in his profession. A professional should act as a role model for service users.  Public confidence in his profession and the regulator would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in these circumstances.

13. The Registrant’s conduct fell far below the standard to be expected of a registered health professional and placed him in breach of Standard 3 of the Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (‘You must keep high standards of personal conduct’). 

14. For the reasons above, the Panel found that there remained some risk of repetition of this conduct, and found that his fitness to practise is impaired on both personal and public grounds. Accordingly, the Panel found the Registrant’s current fitness of practise to be impaired by reason of the conviction.

Decision on sanction
15. The Panel heard and considered submissions on behalf of the  HCPC, the Panel also considered the HCPTS’ Indicative Sanctions Policy and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

16. The Panel first identified the aggravating and mitigating features in this case. The principal aggravating factor was that the Registrant had committed a criminal offence which caused actual harm to his girlfriend and which he had abandoned a car in a position in the road that risked harm to other road users.  The Panel considers that the public was put at risk by the Registrant driving a car whilst under the influence of alcohol. In relation to mitigation, the Registrant had ultimately pleaded guilty to the offence, referred himself to the HCPC, albeit one year later, and had expressed some remorse in his email.

17. In view of the Panel’s finding that there was some risk of repetition and a lack of engagement, this case was too serious to take no action or to impose a Caution Order. Neither outcome would uphold the public interest. A Conditions of Practice Order was not verifiable or workable, because the Registrant appears not to be working as a Chiropodist/Podiatrist and had not done so since 2015.  There was no recent information about whether he was competent to resume practice.

18. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct in committing the offence was remediable by, for example, attending an appropriate rehabilitative course and by re-engaging with his profession. Public confidence in the profession could be maintained by an order for the suspension of the Registrant from practice as a Chiropodist/Podiatrist. The imposition of any lesser sanction would damage public confidence in the profession and the regulator.

19. The Panel considered whether to strike off the Registrant from the register, because of the need to uphold and maintain proper standards of conduct, but the Panel concluded that sanction was not necessary or proportionate on the facts of this case. The Registrant’s conviction was not fundamentally incompatible with his continued registration or a return to the profession.  In that regard, the Panel took into account the case of Isaghehi v NMC [2014] EWHC 127 (Admin) in which a Suspension Order of 12 months was held to be the proportionate sanction in a case of dangerous driving by a psychiatric nurse.

20. The Panel determined that a Suspension Order for a period of six months would allow the Registrant to develop further insight and to reflect on the gravity of the offence.  A future review panel would be assisted by the following:
• A reflective statement on the gravity of the offence and the effect on public confidence in the profession
• Evidence of remediation (e.g. attendance on a drink driving course)
• Evidence of continuing professional development (CPD) with a view to resuming his profession
• References and testimonials from any paid or unpaid work.

21. The Panel strongly encourages the Registrant to assist his own case by attending the review hearing in person if he wishes to resume his profession.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mr Christopher D James for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect. 

Notes

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 16 July 2018.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Christopher D James

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
19/12/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
31/07/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned