Securing ‘Sufficient and Adequate’ Reasons in Disciplinary Proceedings

15 August, 2023

The general importance of the duty to give reasons at common law is well known to practitioners. As Lord Brown, for example, in South Buckinghamshire District Council v Porter (No 2) [2004] 1 WLR 1953 explained, the reasons for a decision must, inter alia, “be intelligible and they must be adequate. 

Securing ‘Sufficient and Adequate’ Reasons in Disciplinary Proceedings

15 August, 2023

The general importance of the duty to give reasons at common law is well known to practitioners. As Lord Brown, for example, in South Buckinghamshire District Council v Porter (No 2) [2004] 1 WLR 1953 explained, the reasons for a decision must, inter alia, “be intelligible and they must be adequate. 

They must enable the reader to understand why the matter was decided as it was and what conclusions were reached on the ‘principal important controversial issues’, disclosing how any issue of law or fact was resolved”. 

The practical importance of that duty, and the need for sufficient and adequate reasons, is, perhaps, even more stark in the context of disciplinary proceedings. In such a forum, an individual may face not only a catastrophic economic loss of livelihood, but also the loss of their profession and personal reputation within their community. Furthermore, those consequences may be visited upon an (occasionally) wholly or largely blameless individual by a wholly or partly lay panel supported only by legal advice of varying quality, rather than an experienced and highly qualified judge. 

A series of recent cases in the context of disciplinary proceedings have brought the importance of that duty, and the standard of reasons nonetheless expected of disciplinary panels, into sharp focus. Whilst it is certainly not intended to suggest that in any of these cases considered the legal input was inadequate, this article explores the broader implications for all those involved in disciplinary decisions which are challenged on such grounds. 

The Andrew Case

In Andrew v Solicitors Regulation Authority Limited (Case No. 12430-2023, 14 June 2023), a recent appeal against the decision of a SRA Adjudication Panel, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (“SDT”) reviewed the reasons given by the SRA panel. The SDT found, inter alia, that the “reasons given were inadequate” and that this “represented a serious procedural irregularity” (see paragraph 59 of the decision). Amongst the criticisms made by the Tribunal was the fact that, inter alia, the panel had described the solicitor’s explanation as “unattractive” but failed to “explain why” and also failed to “give a reason as to why they did not accept” his explanation. This demonstrates, in our view, the need for such bodies to explain very clearly and in terms how they have grappled with the competing cases advanced by the respective parties, and then to set out in their reasons why they have preferred one explanation, for example, to another. 

High Court Decision in Professional Standards

Turning to the context of the medical profession (although the principles are, in our view, applicable, of course, to all disciplinary proceedings), the High Court, in Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care v General Medical Council [2023] EWHC 967 (Admin) (“Professional Standards”), was recently concerned with an appeal against the decision of the Panel of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal of the GMC. Mrs Justice Foster, at paragraph 17, noted that although normally “deference is afforded to the expert Panel”, “this respect is more limited, or absent, in circumstances where a serious procedural or other irregularity is apprehended”. The Judge then quoted, as authority for the proposition that there is a duty to give cogent reasons, the earlier decision of the court in PSA and GOC v Rose [2021] EWHC 2888 (Admin) where it was held that “the duties that expert tribunals have to the public – to ensure that the public can understand why certain decisions have been reached in its name…has a secure foundation”. 

Whilst we have already referred to the life-changing impact such proceedings may have upon the affected individual, Professional Standards highlights the extremely important element of the wider public interest inherent in disciplinary proceedings, particularly where the individual is employed in a profession such as the medical profession where they are responsible for providing services to the public. This means that the reasons must be intelligible not only to the parties, who will of course be aware of the issues, but also to the public (and, indeed, to any court which may be invited to review the outcome, or to apply it for consistency in subsequent proceedings). 

In Professional Standards, the High Court held, at paragraph 71, that it had come to “the clear conclusion that the decision of the Panel must be quashed and remitted to them for reconsideration on the basis of a serious procedural error in the form of inadequate and unclear reasoning as to sanction”. Specifically, “[T]he reasoning process is inadequate for the Court to determine whether or not certain important issues were appreciated, and if so, how they were reasoned through. It is therefore not possible to determine whether the sanction imposed was “wrong” in the statutory sense. There has been a serious procedural error engaging the Court’s appellate jurisdiction”. In reaching that finding, the High Court, inter alia, described the treatment of certain evidence as “opaque”, said it was not clear “what analysis the Panel engaged in upon” certain matters and found that certain matters were not mentioned even where they were “opened” or “canvassed in evidence” and were matters “which they must have formed a view on” (see paragraph 73). The Court also found that in determining proportionality, “the reasoning is inadequate to demonstrate the particular factors that impressed the Panel and to help the public understand what it was that drove the MPT to the conclusion it reached on a conditions of practice order” (see paragraph 73). All in all, “the reasoning does not allow of an informed decision” (see paragraph 73).

The High Court noted that it was mindful that the “Panel saw the Professor give evidence and [was] therefore in a good position to make judgements that are central to the seriousness of the events in question and as to genuine understanding and insight” but due to what it regarded as the “clear failure of reasoning, possibly concealing failures of analysis”, the Court nonetheless quashed the “decision on the basis only of procedural error, for a reconsideration and revisiting of the decision on sanction” (see paragraph 75). The Court, at paragraph 81, noted that a Panel “in the reasoning they set out” must “expose the relevant analysis so the reader understands what the principal issues were, and what the Panel made of them. This is part and parcel of their function in protecting the public interest”. This analysis highlights, again, that a decision can be set aside even where there may have been a good basis on the merits of the case for the decision which was reached; this reflects once more the importance which should be attached to the need for reasons which are (at the very least) ‘adequate’. 

The Bennett Case

One other recent example was the case of Ms Bennett, a social worker, who was initially charged with holding data of service users on her personal computer (of which she was cleared), together with acts of dishonesty following her conviction for immigration offences. Following a hearing before a Fitness to Practice Committee Ms Bennett’s fitness to practise was initially found to be impaired. She was suspended for 12 months. The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care subsequently appealed to the High Court against that decision on the basis that there had been serious procedural irregularities in respect of the decision on sanction and/or that it was wrong – see The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care v Social Work England [2021] EWHC 3593 (Admin). Social Work England (as the decision-making body) accepted, albeit Ms Bennett did not, that there were serious procedural irregularities in the decision on sanction. The High Court, at paragraph 59, noted that “A failure to give adequate reasons may constitute a serious procedural irregularity, which renders the tribunal’s decision unjust”. The High Court also noted that “The adequacy of the reasons will depend on the nature of the case”. 

The High Court, in that case, concluded that the Committee had failed to give adequate reasons. At paragraph 73, the Court held that due to the “series of findings” which had been made, there was a need for “a clear, reasoned explanation as to why removal was not considered to be the appropriate sanction”. Further, at paragraph 78, the High Court found that the Committee had made brief reference to the “wider public interest” but held that “it was incumbent on the Committee, particularly in a case where there was serious, persistent dishonesty and a lack of insight, to address how its role in upholding public trust applied to the imposition of a sanction”. The Court went on to say that the Committee had failed to do so, and that its “reasons did not have to be over-elaborate. This could have been explained in a few sentences, or perhaps less”.  The High Court concluded that, overall, “The absence of reasoning in…various respects meant that the parties, the appellant, the appeal court and members of the public are not able to understand sufficiently, if at all, why this Committee decided that a 12-month suspension was the appropriate sanction in circumstances where its own findings appeared to point towards removal” (see paragraph 97). The High Court held that this meant that the decision was tainted by a serious procedural irregularity. The decision was, therefore, remitted. 

The Wallace Case

The approach taken by the High Court in the decisions just discussed is reflective of the earlier decision of Holgate J in Wallace v Secretary of State for Education [2017] EWHC 109 (Admin) where the High Court was concerned with an appeal against a decision to impose a prohibition order on a teacher. One of the grounds of appeal was that the Respondent had failed to give adequate reasons for the decision. The Appellant succeeded on two other grounds such that the Court did not consider it necessary to consider the reasons ground in detail (see paragraph 94). The High Court did, however, say that it would “nevertheless consider that the reasoning given by the Respondent is legally inadequate because (a) there is at least a “substantial doubt” as to whether she took…matters into account…and (b) the Appellant has not been given a reasoned decision which applies those factors [alternative sanction and the correct proportionality test] to his case”. Once more such decisions reflect the overriding need for adequate reasons so that the individual professional can themselves understand the decision which has been reached.

What Can Be Done?

In each of the cases mentioned the quashing and remitting of the original decision must have come as an extremely unwelcome surprise to the respondent professional, particularly so when the shortcoming which led to that decision did not relate directly to their conduct, but rather a procedural failure on the part of the tribunal determining their case. Anyone representing such a party may also be somewhat frustrated to find that their earlier victory proved to be merely Pyrrhic. 

Is there anything that a practitioner appearing before such bodies can do to avert such a failure? Strictly speaking, the answer must be ‘no’. By definition the making and formulation of any decision will be beyond their control. However, all is not entirely lost as it is possible, in our view, that by the very careful formulation of written submissions, properly identifying the legal issues which the panel needs to address - and the particular facts upon which findings are required - that the likelihood of such unsatisfactory outcomes can be very significantly reduced.


It is clear from the above that the Courts have unsurprisingly (and entirely reasonably) placed great weight on the importance of, and the need for, adequate and sufficient reasons which explains the decision which it has reached, including how it has resolved any important issues of fact or law, in the context of disciplinary proceedings. The failure by a decision maker, such as a committee or a disciplinary panel, to give adequate reasons for its decision, irrespective of the underlying merits of that decision, can lead to the decision being set aside on the basis of a ‘serious procedural error or irregularity’. The disadvantages of such an outcome are numerous (e.g. undue delay in bringing about a final conclusion to disciplinary proceedings, unsatisfactory public resolution, increased costs for all involved, etc.). 

Whilst it has always been necessary for disciplinary bodies to pay close regard to the need for sufficient and adequate reasons, practitioners would be well advised to do all within their power to help them achieve that end… 

Back to Articles