Longest ever disciplinary violated human rights

Posted: 25th July 2013

Hospital SignTwo nurses who were found guilty of misconduct by their professional body following the longest recorded set of disciplinary proceedings have been exonerated after the High Court found that their human right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time had been violated and that the delays that blighted their cases had been ‘disgraceful’.

Misconduct was found proved against the two women by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in 2011 following a hearing which had lasted a total of 86 days, spread over a period of two years and nine months. The Court observed that the proceedings could serve as a case study of how not to conduct a disciplinary case.

The allegations related to the nurses’ conduct whilst working at a home for the elderly. The NMC found both women had failed to ensure care plans were in place for four residents with a history of falls and that one of them had failed to ensure a safe system of administration of medicine, with regard to five patients, was in place.

The allegations related to events between 1996 and 2002 and the nurses first learnt of them in 2003. Following a lengthy investigation, the hearing of their disciplinary case was not scheduled until 2009. Further delays ensued and the hearing was not concluded until December 2011.

Taking into account those delays, the detrimental impact that they had had on both women, their 'previously unblemished' careers and their positive testimonials, the NMC in the end decided not to impose any sanctions on them. The body also issued a public apology for the length of time taken to deal with the matters.

Lamenting the enormous waste of resources involved and the long-term damage done to both women’s professional careers, the Court noted: "At the end of this eight-year case, therefore, no action was taken in relation to either registrant. Thus the mountains had laboured and brought forth a mouse."

The NMC accepted that the delays that had plagued the women’s cases amounted to a breach of their right to a reasonably prompt and fair hearing, enshrined in article six of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it sought to uphold the findings of misconduct made against them.

Quashing those findings, the Court ruled that they were 'unreasonable, unfair and, in consequence, unlawful' and not reasonably supported by the evidence. The Court concluded: "A decade after this misconceived and mismanaged case was brought against the registrants, their names are clear."