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In 2020, discrimination was brought into tight focus and, in this context, a recent hearing by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) should not pass without comment.
In October–November 2020, the GPhC’S Fitness-to-Practise Committee convened to rule on the conduct of a pharmacist who, at the Al Quds demonstration in June 2017, made what were, in our opinion, highly offensive antisemitic comments.
Both of us are Jewish. One of us (Jonathan Hoffman) was present to protest against the Al Quds demonstration, and was called as a witness in this GPhC hearing; and the other (Graham Phillips) is a pharmacist who takes pride in the ethnic diversity of his staff and his own heritage — with many of his family having perished in the Holocaust — making him passionate in standing up to racism.
Along with many others in the Jewish community, we were therefore appalled by the determination of this hearing. The Committee reached the conclusion that the pharmacist’s conduct was not antisemitic — a decision we find insulting.
In reaching its decision, the testimony of two Jewish witnesses — both of whom have long experience in identifying antisemitism — appear to have been dismissed. The hearing report suggests that Hoffman “could not be said to be a wholly impartial observer”.
In his opening comments, Andrew Colman QC, representing the GPhC, said the regulator sought to determine “whether the comments made by the Registrant were anti-Semitic, when judged objectively … this should be taken to mean whether they would be considered anti-Semitic by any ordinary reasonable person, not a person with particular characteristics. So not an ordinary Jewish person but an ordinary member of the British public”.
But the Committee’s yardstick of a “reasonable person” — but one who is not Jewish — led it to state that one of the registrant’s statements was not antisemitic because a “reasonable person would trouble to seek to understand the underlying context”. Imagine the uproar if the same Committee ruled that something perceived to be offensive to black or Muslim people was not racist because the “reasonable person” (not black or Muslim) lacked the knowledge to understand it.
In disregarding the evidence of two Jews on antisemitism, we believe mistakes have been made in the handling of this issue, similarly to the failures of the Labour Party, as highlighted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report, published in October 2020.
This was clearly an unusual case for the GPhC. If it had recognised this from the start (by accepting the guidance that was offered pro bono from experts in antisemitism), we believe this litany of procedural errors might have been avoided.
This case was alerted to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which, on 24 December 2020, told the Campaign Against Antisemitism that it had decided to refer the GPhC’s decision to the High Court, after reviewing the procedures and determination.
We hope that the High Court can overturn the outcome of this case, which we believe clearly threatens public confidence in the pharmacy profession.
And the GPhC must review its procedures to ensure that these errors are never repeated.
Jonathan Hoffman, witness; Graham Phillips, member, Royal Pharmaceutical Society
A spokesperson for the General Pharmaceutical Council said:
We have received the grounds of appeal and we are considering our response. The GPhC is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion and to taking a person-centred approach to managing concerns about pharmacy professionals that is fair, lawful and therefore free from discrimination and bias. We are considering all aspects of this case through our usual internal review mechanisms.