If someone makes a criminal allegation against you, whether true or false, you will be subject to a police investigation. This will no doubt be a daunting experience for you. In this article we guide you through the process and give you some important advice to help you protect your registration as a dentist.
At the police station:
It is a fallacy that only those who have done something wrong need to seek the advice of a lawyer. If you are facing criminal allegations the first thing you should do is seek legal advice from a criminal defence specialist solicitor. Good representation at an early stage will ensure your rights are protected, and can in some circumstances even prevent criminal charges being pursued. Facing a criminal allegation can be one of the most stressful events of your life, you do not need to face it alone.
The police can choose to either conduct an interview following arrest, or on a voluntary basis – commonly referred to as “caution plus three”. An interview after arrest means that you will be detained at the police station and are not at liberty to leave until the police or courts allow it. Under “caution plus three” is less draconian, and means that you are free to leave at any time as you will not be arrested. Everyone who attends for a police interview, whether, voluntary or under arrest, has the right to free and independent legal advice.
Can I choose my own solicitor?
Yes, if you are given notice of the interview it is important to research and identify an appropriately qualified lawyer. However, if you are arrested unexpectedly and are not able to request your own lawyer, you will be offered the assistance of a “duty solicitor”. There is a duty solicitor on call at all times to provide assistance in the police station.
When you are arrested, and again at the beginning of your interview, you will be read the police caution:
“You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
There may be circumstances when it is appropriate to answer “no comment” to questions being asked by the police officer. For example, where there is in fact limited evidence that you were present or have participated in a crime and the police are essentially “fishing” for incriminating information. Alternatively, if you do not feel comfortable or confident in answering all questions put to you, it is possible to provide a prepared statement setting out the terms of your defence. If this is done properly then it is unlikely a jury would be invited to draw an adverse inference as a result of your failure to answer all questions put.
Whilst legal advice and assistance is free and available to everyone in a police station, regardless of their means, you can choose to instruct a solicitor on a private paying basis, if for example you wish to have a consultation with them in advance of the interview.
It is very important that you make clear to your solicitor that you are a dentist, and that any police action against you could have serious consequences on your registration with the GDC. You must bear in mind that what you say to the police may be used in any later fitness to practice hearing. It can be a difficult balance to strike in providing information that offers a defence to a criminal allegation, but will not inadvertently leave you open to disciplinary action with the GDC. A defence of innocent incompetence to an allegation of fraud for example, may amount to a breach of the GDC Standards for the Dental Team.
If you did use the duty solicitor at the police station but were not happy with their service you are not obliged to continue to be represented by them.
Low level offending, such as common assault, shop lifting and traffic offences are all dealt with at the magistrates’ court. Your case will be heard by either 3 magistrates (lay people) or a District Judge. There is unfortunately very limited rights to anonymity before the criminal courts, and your name will appear on the court lists regardless of whether you are found guilty or not guilty.
Legal aid is available in the magistrates’ court, but it is both means and merits tested. The threshold for automatic financial eligibility is income under £12,475 per annum, as such most dentists will not be eligible for legal aid. When paying privately, it is important to bear in mind that even if you are found not guilty you will not be reimbursed for all your legal costs. Any reimbursement is at the legal aid rate, which is very low, and is dependent on you having applied for and been refused legal aid at the outset. Some insurance policies will cover criminal allegations, particularly where they are related to professional misconduct charges. It is always worth speaking to your insurers to find out what they will cover at the outset and remember you have the freedom to choose your own solicitor to represent you under such cover, you do not need to rely on the solicitors appointed by the insurers.
In the magistrates court you can be represented by either a solicitor or a barrister. It is worth considering very carefully the trial experience of the person who is going to represent you. Do not be afraid to ask what their experience is and whether they have dealt with similar cases in the past.
More serious offences are dealt with at the Crown Court. Legal aid is technically available for everyone who appears before the Crown Court, however, applicants have to make a contribution towards their legal costs of up to £900 per month, which is capped dependent upon the seriousness of the offence. For more serious offences you are likely to have the benefit of both a solicitor and an advocate representing you; this can be either a barrister or solicitor advocate. Your solicitor should discuss their choice of advocate with you before they are instructed to ensure that you are happy with their choice of representative.
If I have been arrested but not charged with any criminal offence should I notify the GDC?
If you are arrested but not charged with any offence there is no obligation to inform the GDC. However, if you are charged, but not yet convicted, of an offence anywhere in the world, you will need to inform the GDC. Similarly, if you are given a formal ‘police caution’ (not the same as the caution above, but a warning from the police regarding behaviour following an admission of guilt), or accept a penalty notice for disorderly behaviour, then you will need to let the GDC know.
If you receive a fixed penalty notice for a driving offence or antisocial behaviour order, you will not need to inform the GDC.
When do I need to inform the GDC of criminal convictions/cautions?
Generally dental care professionals do need to inform the GDC immediately if they are convicted of a criminal offence. However, if you are registering with the GDC you do not need to inform them of a conviction if it is considered “protected”.
If I am convicted of a criminal offence will I automatically face fitness to practice proceedings?
All criminal convictions and cautions will be referred to the GDC Fitness Practice department for consideration. The GDC will then consider whether the offence committed involved a departure from the high standards required of dental professionals and whether it impacts on their fitness to practice. Consideration will also be given to the dentist’s character and conduct since the commission of the offence. The GDC will assess the level of risk that the conviction or caution will have on protecting the public and maintaining confidence in the profession.
Do I have to declare my conviction to future employers?
Whether you need to declare your convictions to your employers will depend on whether it is considered ‘spent’. The rules are complicated and vary depending upon the type of conviction you have and the reason you are being asked to provide the information. For instance, an enhanced criminal records check is usually required for all jobs that involve working with children, so any convictions, including those that are ‘spent’, will usually have to be declared. If in doubt, ask an expert!
If you or someone you know has been contacted by the police, or faces criminal charges, call our criminal team on 020 7388 1658. Our dental experts work in conjunction with our criminal lawyers to ensure you have the best possible representation to protect both your personal, but also your professional life.
Julia Furley, Barrister