The High Court today (23 June) quashed a decision by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) in relation to the alleged antisemitic comments made by London pharmacist Nazim Ali.
In an appeal filed by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), the court found that the Fitness to Practice (FtP) committee of the GPhC erred in taking into account of the intention and character of Ali when the allegation was, however, simply that the words used by him were offensive and antisemitic.
“[The FtP committee] wrongly took account of Mr Ali’s intention when assessing whether his language was objectively antisemitic. It wrongly took account of his character when assessing whether his language was objectively antisemitic. And it erroneously failed to assess whether the remarks, considered cumulatively, were objectively antisemitic, as opposed to whether each remark in isolation was anti-Semitic,” Justice Johnson, of the Queen’s Bench division of the court, said in the judgment.
The case pertains to a rally led by Ali on 18 June 2017 to demonstrate support for Palestinian rights, in which he made the comments in question. Currently the managing partner of Chelsea Pharmacy in London, he was not acting as a pharmacist when the rally took place.
After an allegation was made against him that he had thereby said things that were antisemitic and offensive, FtP committee in November 2020 ruled that his comments were offensive but not antisemitic. The committee concluded that Ali’s use of the words, which he admitted were grossly offensive, amounted to serious misconduct and that his fitness to practise was thereby impaired, and issued him with a warning.
The PSA appealed to the High Court against the finding, saying the committee had erred in its approach and incorrectly taken into account his intention and character, rather than taking a purely objective approach.
The GPhC did not contest the appeal, agreeing to the contention by the PSA.
“We will make sure the learnings from this case and the High Court judgment are shared across the organisation and our committees,” Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the GPHC, said, adding that the further FtP hearing for Ali will be scheduled at the earliest opportunity.
Contesting the appeal, Ali, who also performs as a stand-up comedian, noted that a warning would be appropriate even if his language is found to be antisemitic as that was the sanction suggested by the GPhC in its opening submissions at FtP hearing.
Justice Johnson said he is “in principle, sympathetic to the suggestion”, but noted that the case does engage “significant questions of public confidence.”
“It is vitally important that all sections of the community are able to place trust and confidence in pharmacists,” he wrote in the judgment. “That is vividly illustrated by the current pandemic, and the need that all communities are able to have confidence in advice given by pharmacists and other professionals about the risks and benefits of vaccination. Public confidence is an important consideration when considering sanction.”
The judge decided to remit the case to the FtP committee for reconsideration, saying that the committee is better placed to make an assessment as to the appropriate sanction to be imposed.