Who is involved in a fitness to practise hearing?

Depending on the regulator, each function may go by a different name, but essentially the role is the same:

The fitness to practise panel – the people who make the decisions in the case. Even though the panel itself is convened by the regulator, they are independent and impartial and will decide the case after they have heard from both the regulator and the registrant. Panel’s may include people who are themselves registrants, but you are not entitled to request that the registrant member is a specialist in your field of practise, so for example, a mental health nurse could not insist that the panel includes a mental health nurse. All panel members will receive training so that they understand their role and the decisions that they need to make.

The legal assessor – this is another role which is independent of the regulator, with a highly experienced fitness to practise lawyer providing legal advice to the panel (who are not necessarily lawyers themselves). They may also interact with the parties to ensure that procedures are properly followed and that the advice given to the panel accurately reflects the issues on which the parties do not agree and the questions that the panel has to decide on.

The hearing coordinator – this is the person who manages the logistics of the hearing, ensuring that everyone knows where they need to be, managing witnesses, arranging attendance via video link, communicating instructions from the panel to the parties and writing up the panel’s findings.

The case presenter – this is a lawyer who represents the regulator and will be responsible for questioning witnesses and making submissions in support of the regulator’s position.

The registrant – if a registrant is representing themselves then they should be present throughout the hearing as they will need to provide input at all stages, beyond just giving evidence. If a registrant has a representative then they could decide not to be present after they have given evidence. If a case has been ‘joined’ and there will be multiple registrants at the hearing, each one is entitled to represent themselves or have their own representative. Even if there are multiple registrants facing charges, the panel will consider their cases separately -they are only joined to make it easier for witnesses to be called to one hearing, rather than having to attend several hearings which all deal with the same facts.

The registrant’s representative – a lawyer who represents the interests of the registrant, will question witnesses and make any legal arguments which are necessary. During the course of the hearing the representative will need to be reactive to the panel’s decision at the end of each stage and be able incorporate this into their submissions in relation to the following stage.

Witnesses – both parties are able to call witnesses who can either give evidence as to the facts (what happened? did the alleged incident happen?) or if they are a specialist in their field they may be allowed to give expert evidence, for example about a particular medical condition, medication regime or cause of death. Only experts can give opinion evidence, general witnesses need to stick to the facts as they experienced them.

Observers – fitness to practise hearings are generally public events, so anyone can sit in the hearing room, or attend via video link for remote hearings. This could include anyone from a curious member of the general public to law students who want to understand more about the hearing process.

A supporter – most regulators will allow a registrant to be accompanied by a supporter, usually a family member or friend who is there to provide moral support. This person cannot be involved in the case in any way and is not allowed to speak on the registrant’s behalf or address the panel.