The High Court has today ruled that a decision by the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) Fitness to Practice Committee in the case of Nazim Ali must be quashed and “determine[d] afresh” after an appeal by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) at the request of Campaign Against Antisemitism.
Mr Ali is the leader of the annual pro-Hizballah ‘Al Quds Day’ march in London who made antisemitic statements during the 2017 march. Since Mr Ali is a pharmacist Campaign Against Antisemitism brought a complaint to his professional regulator, the GPhC.
Last year, the GPhC’s Fitness to Practise Committee found that Mr Ali had brought the pharmaceutical profession into disrepute, following a two-week hearing that culminated on 5th November. Although the Fitness to Practise Committee had found that Mr Ali’s words were offensive, it did not find that the words had been antisemitic, and the panel let him off with only a formal warning.
Following the GPhC’s ruling, Campaign Against Antisemitism made representations to the PSA, which oversees disciplinary decisions made by the GPhC. We asked the PSA to use its statutory power to appeal the GPhC’s decision to the High Court under the National Health Service Reform and Healthcare Professionals Act 2002, on the grounds that the decision made by the GPhC panel was insufficient to protect the public because it was “irrational and perverse”.
In particular, we asked the PSA to review the GPhC’s ruling that Mr Ali’s statements were not antisemitic, including by attempting to distinguish between “antisemitism” and “antisemitic”. We have asked the PSA to consider the International Definition of Antisemitism, which has been adopted by the British Government, and the Guidance to all Judiciary in England and Wales produced by the Judicial College that makes clear that the word “Zionist” or “Zio” as a term of abuse has no place in a civilised society.
Furthermore, we argued that the ruling misapplied the law when asking whether a “reasonable person” would have considered the comments made by Mr Ali as being antisemitic. The GPhC’s Fitness to Practise Committee ruled that Jewish bystanders who saw the demonstration or watched the recording of it posted online could not be considered to be “reasonable persons” in the legal sense because of their “selective view of events”.
The PSA made the referral that we requested, opening the way for the High Court to decide whether to quash the GPhC panel’s decision. Subsequently, the GPhC itself also agreed with Campaign Against Antisemitism and declared that it would not oppose the appeal at the High Court, leaving Mr Ali to do so himself.
The hearing took place on 9th June, and today the High Court has issued its decision, allowing the PSA’s appeal, which was made following a request by Campaign Against Antisemitism. The High Court has ruled that the case is to be remitted to the Fitness to Practice Committee to redetermine whether Mr Ali’s comments had been antisemitic.
In reaching his decision, Mr Justice Johnson noted: “In determining whether the [GPhC] has established that the remarks are antisemitic, the [Fitness to Practise Committee] should assess the objective meaning of the remarks…[taking] account of their meaning taken as a whole, and it should not take account of Mr Ali’s subjective intention; Mr Ali’s good character; [and] the reaction of other audiences in other contexts.”
Duncan Rudkin, Chief Executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, said: “We agree that the Fitness to Practise Committee erred in its approach to deciding whether or not the comments made by Mr Ali were antisemitic and we did not contest the appeal 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. The further Fitness to Practise hearing for Mr Ali will be scheduled at the earliest opportunity.”
Stephen Silverman, Director of Investigations and Enforcement at Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “The High Court has agreed with us that the decision on whether Nazim Ali’s remarks at the pro-Hizballah ‘Al Quds Day’ march in 2017 were antisemitic was woefully inept. As we hoped, the High Court has now quashed the original decision of the Fitness to Practise Committee of the General Pharmaceutical Council in relation to Mr Ali’s antisemitism and ordered it to reach a new decision. This is exactly why we referred the matter to the Professional Standards Authority.
“We commend the Professional Standards Authority and the General Pharmaceutical Council itself for recognising the injustice of the earlier decision.
“We hope that the Fitness to Practise Committee will arrive at a new decision that accepts that Mr Ali’s comments were antisemitic and that on that basis the previous sanction was inadequate and wrong. The road to justice in this case has proved long and winding, but we are again heading in the right direction.
“We said that we would not allow this injustice to stand and we are delighted by this new judgement. Campaign Against Antisemitism will always be unrelenting in pursuit of justice.”
We are extremely grateful to Simon Braun, a partner at Perrin Myddelton solicitors, and barrister Thomas Daniel of 2 Bedford Row Chambers, who acted for and assisted Campaign Against Antisemitism in this matter. We additionally commend all those who also contacted the GPhC and PSA to protest against the initial unjust decision.