Regulatory proceedings including disciplinary proceedings
brought by public authorities are covered by the Human Rights Act. Where
such proceedings determine a civil right or a criminal charge, e.g.
professional disciplinary proceedings, they engage the right to a fair
hearing under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Article 6(1) includes the right to a determination ìwithin a reasonable
timeî. Undue delay can therefore lead to an infringement of Article 6. As
a separate matter, under the common law, undue delay can lead to
proceedings becoming an abuse of process.
In Haikel v General Medical Council  All ER (D) 99 (Jul),
the Privy Council had to consider the impact of Article 6 and the common
law in the context of GMC disciplinary proceedings. The GMC's Professional
Conduct Committee (ìPCCî) had found a registered general practitioner
guilty of serious professional misconduct following allegations that he
had conducted clinically inappropriate intimate examinations of a number
of female patients, and the PCC ordered his name to be erased from the
An appeal was launched on various grounds including in relation to
delay. The first allegation by the GMC against the doctor concerned an
incident in autumn 1988 and the charges also included further incidents
over a four year period. The initial complaint to the GMC was made by the
practice nurse in December 1996 and was followed up by a letter of
complaint from the Health Authority to the GMC in July 1999. The Health
Authority's letter was then drawn to the doctor's attention by the GMC in
a letter dated 23 September 1999. Charges were served on 5 June 2001 and
the hearing began on 19 July 2001.
When does time begin to run?
In order to determine whether there had been a breach of the right to a
hearing within a reasonable time, the Privy Council first sought to
identify the relevant period of time over which the protection of Article
6(1) applied. Article 6(1) is concerned only with procedural delay and not
the passage of time between the conduct in question and the commencement
of proceedings. Therefore, in civil cases, time begins to run from the
initiation of proceedings (see Guincho v Portugal (1994) EHRR 223)
and continues throughout the entire proceedings. In a solicitors' case,
the Strasbourg Court has held that time runs from the date of the bringing
of charges (Brown v UK (38644/1997, judgment 24/11/1998). In that
case, the Solicitors...