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I have been asked to appear before a Fitness to Practise panel. What are my rights?

I have been asked to appear before a Fitness to Practise panel. What are my rights?

Being asked to appear before a Fitness to Practise panel can be one of the most stressful and painful experiences you can face as a student as it can seem like the career for which you have been working towards for many years suddenly hangs in the balance. It is important to remember, however, that although the accusations against you may be very serious, you are innocent until proven guilty and you have the right to defend yourself as rigorously as possible.

Understandably and quite rightly, the standards expected of students who study professional programmes in areas such as law, medicine and social work are extremely high. There is a duty to the public to ensure that students on professional training programmes conduct themselves in a professional and appropriate manner at all times, both on and off university premises. However, this is a complex area, legally speaking, and on occasion students are unjustly criticised and ultimately wrongly accused of behaving in a way which brings the university into disrepute. In such cases, you must take every advantage of your right to prepare your case and defend yourself to the best of your abilities.

Under what circumstances might you be deemed unfit to practise?

There are many situations that might result in a student being asked to appear before a Fitness to Practise panel, from very commonplace misdemeanours such as a lack of regular attendance or a lack of perceived commitment to the course to much more serious situations such as when a student does something that results in a criminal conviction. Other scenarios include a student being accused of:

  • cheating or plagiarism
  • dishonesty or fraud
  • inappropriate or violent behaviour such as discrimination, harassment or bullying
  • a breach of professional confidentiality
  • abuse of alcohol, drugs or other substances
  • a lack of professional conduct

Most of these accusations are obviously very serious indeed but until such a time that a student is found guilty, they remain accusations and the student in question has the right to defend themselves and fight for the right to pursue their chosen career.

How can you best defend yourself against unjust accusations?

In an ideal scenario, concerns over fitness to practise are resolved without the need for an official hearing. For this to occur, students accused of wrongdoing need to be able to approach tutors or other members of university staff to explain and defend themselves. However, this is not always possible and often, students are required to appear before a panel without being given an opportunity to resolve the situation less formally.

Once you are formally requested to appear before a panel, it is imperative that you act quickly and prepare your defence as well as you can, and you are well within your rights at this point to seek professional help or guidance. This is where Match Solicitors can help.

At Match, we have a great deal of experience of helping students successfully defend themselves against unjust or unreasonable allegations, so if you are facing a Fitness to Practise panel and require some help to prepare your case, don't hesitate to give us a call. No matter what the specifics of your case, we can advise you as to your chances of success and then we can get to work preparing your defence. 

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