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Rehabilitated Offenders in the Professions – High Court Ponders

There is a strong public interest in the rehabilitation of offenders but there are also powerful reasons why those with convictions for dishonesty or violence should be screened out of the medical and other professions. That dichotomy was the focus of a High Court case concerning a pharmacy student who was sent down from university after failing to disclose his criminal past.

The student had been convicted of robbery and assault when he was aged 14, but had since done nothing wrong and had achieved good GCSE and A-level results. Before being accepted onto the pharmacy degree course, he failed to disclose his convictions when filling in a pre-entry form.

When the truth was subsequently uncovered, the student explained that he had filled in the form in a rush and had been told by his probation officer that he was not required to disclose his convictions. He was, however, expelled from the course on the basis that his failure had been dishonest and that his convictions made him unsuitable to work in the pharmacy profession.

In ruling on the student’s judicial review challenge to that decision, the Court noted that the university acted as a gatekeeper for the profession. Its accreditation by the General Pharmaceutical Council depended on it having appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that those accepted onto the course could be expected to safely advise patients and handle prescription drugs.

In those circumstances, the university was entitled to ask prospective students to disclose even spent convictions and its policy struck a fair balance between the individual’s human right to privacy and the wider interests of the community. In upholding the student’s challenge, however, the Court found that the university had entirely ignored the considerable mitigation that was available to him. That was a fundamental failure that vitiated the decision, which was duly quashed.

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