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Specialist General Optical Council (GOC) Defence Lawyers

What is the GOC?

The General Optical Council (GOC) is the independent regulator for optical professionals in the United Kingdom (UK). The term optical professional refers to optometrists, dispensing opticians, student optometrists and dispensing opticians, as well as, optical businesses. Anyone who wants to work in the UK as an optical professional must be registered with the GOC.

What do the GOC do?

The GOC’s four primary functions include setting standards for the performance and conduct of registrants; approving qualifications for registration; maintaining a register of those fit to practise or train as optometrists or dispensing opticians and corporate bodies that are fit to carry on businesses as optometrists or dispensing opticians; investigating and taking action where registrants’ fitness to practise, train or carry on business may be impaired.

How can Olliers assist with a GOC case?

The regulatory team at Olliers are committed and experienced defence lawyers who are on hand to provide legal advice and assistance to optical professionals facing investigation and/or proceedings brought by the GOC.

Why choose Olliers?

Our experts have dealt with the full spectrum of cases, from allegations of poor performance to serious misconduct and dishonesty, as well as, cases concerning the physical and/or mental health of the professional. It is important to note that the GOC are only able to investigate serious concerns which may mean that an optical professional is not fit to practise.

We pride ourselves on providing tailored, expert representation for clients throughout the course of their dealings with the GOC, advising at all stages of the process, from initial referral to representation at fitness to practise hearings before a committee, including those convened to consider the need for any interim orders pending the conclusion of the matter.

As professionals, we understand the anxiety that these cases can cause and we appreciate the potentially far–reaching consequences for our clients’ practice, professional and personal reputation, the financial impact, as well as, the knock-on effect on family life.

We work closely with our clients and take a pro-active approach which will generally include collating all relevant material, preparing submissions and making appropriate representations, as necessary, to ensure your practice can continue.

We will instruct relevant experts when needed and have close working relationships with a number of highly experienced and dedicated defence counsel to ensure you have the best representation at any hearings.

Our approach means that we have earned a reputation for meticulous preparation, sound advice and excellent results for those we represent. Therefore, if you are subject to GOC proceedings or find yourself under investigation by them or any other regulatory body, please get in touch and we can help you navigate the process.

What types of cases can Olliers assist with?

The team at Olliers have assisted optical professionals at all levels with a variety of regulatory matters, as well as, associated criminal proceedings- a holistic approach which we feel sets us apart from many other firms who are unable to offer the strength and depth of experience across both sectors. Our experience includes:

  • Providing expert advice during the course of GOC investigations
  • Preparation of responses to GOC correspondence
  • Representation at Interim Orders hearings
  • Representation at fitness to practise hearings
  • Criminal investigations including representation at PACE interviews

What can I expect following a referral to the GOC?

Like other regulators, the GOC will inevitably receive a large number of complaints/concerns each year but not all of them will result in an investigation. As noted, the GOC are only able to investigate serious concerns; they do not arrange refunds, compensation or apologies nor do they provide service users with an explanation of what has happened or order professionals to give patients access to records.

On receipt of a concern the GOC will assess the information against their “Acceptance Criteria” which helps them decide whether or not the referral raises the question of impairment. Section 13D of the Opticians Act 1989 sets out the grounds upon which a registrant’s fitness to practise may be impaired, including:

  • Misconduct
  • Deficient professional performance
  • Conviction or caution
  • Acceptance of a conditional offer or agreement to pay a penalty
  • Adverse physical or mental health and/or
  • Determination by another body

It is interesting to note that the GOC are able to investigate concerns or events alleged to have taken place anywhere including outside the UK and at any time even before the professional became registered.

For those that do result in an investigation, as part of this initial stage, a professional will be notified about the concerns received and may be asked to provide proof of their indemnity insurance and to confirm their employment details.

During this stage, the GOC will collate all relevant information and documentation which may include patient records or independent expert advice, whilst in cases related to criminal matters, it is likely to include police reports and certificates of conviction.

When the information has been collected, the professional will be invited to, but is not obliged to comment on the issues raised. You should always seek legal advice before providing any information on or response to the concerns, particularly in GOC matters as the complainant will actually see and be able to make further comments on your response. Although a response is optional at this stage, it

is worth highlighting that well-crafted submissions can result in matters being concluded sooner rather than later.

Once the complainant has provided any further comments on any response provided by the registrant, the case will be referred for consideration by two case examiners, one of who will be a lay member and the other a fellow professional.

It is important to note that the case examiners role is not to rule on factual disputes about the allegations or evidence rather they must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to prove the allegation and determine if it is so serious that it must be referred to an independent fitness to practise committee. In reaching their decision they will consider:

  • Whether there is real prospect of the facts, as alleged, being found proved
  • Whether there is a real prospect of a finding of current impairment being made and some form of action against your registration being justified.

The case examiners will make their decision based on all of the information before them. They will not hear any oral evidence and you will not be present when they meet. This is yet another reason why it is important to seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity so that tactical decisions can be made about appropriate submissions.

Having considered all of the material, the case examiners have a range of options available to them including:

  • Ask for further investigations to be conducted
  • Take no further action
  • Take no further action but issue advice about future conduct
  • Issue a warning
  • Refer the case to a Fitness to Practise Committee

In cases where the case examiners cannot agree or if they require an assessment of the registrant’s health or performance they will refer the case to the Investigation Committee who have the same decision-making powers as the case examiners.

It is worth noting that consideration will also be given as to whether the concerns raised require immediate action in the form of a suspension or restrictions being placed on your practice. As such, the GOC Registrar, case examiners or Investigation Committee can, if necessary, refer a case to a Fitness to Practise Committee to consider the imposition of an interim order. This can be done at any stage.

Interim Orders

An interim orders hearing does not make findings of fact or determine any allegations which may be made against the optician or optical professional. Their role is to consider whether or not it is necessary to make an order against the registrant on an interim basis in order to protect the public or where it is the public interest or in the interests of the registrant to do so.

A fitness to practise committee can impose the following interim orders:

(i) No order

(ii) Conditions for up to 18 months with six monthly reviews

(iii) Suspension for up to 18 months with six monthly reviews.

The committee must consider the principles of proportionality when deciding on the most appropriate course of action. They must balance the need to protect the public and the wider public interest against the interests of the registrant, bearing in mind the likely impact any order may have on them both professionally and personally. This is another reason why it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible because robust submissions at this stage could mean the difference between suspension and conditions or no order at all.

What happens if a case is referred to a Fitness to Practise Committee for a hearing?

Hearings are generally held in public unless dealing with issues pertaining to a registrant’s health. The committee are independent of the GOC and will usually be made up of three members and will be a mix of optical professionals and lay members.

Most hearings will have a legal assessor who advises the committee on points of law, but plays no part in decision making.

What is the procedure before a Fitness to Practise Committee?

When a case is referred for a hearing, parties are expected to engage and co-operate so that appropriate arrangements can be made in relation to key issues such as the disclosure of evidence, witness requirements and timetabling.

The final hearing will ordinarily begin with the Chair introducing themselves and their fellow committee members. The hearing will then deal with any preliminary legal issues which generally involve submissions from the GOC and the registrant’s representative. The committee will take appropriate legal advice on the issues before retiring to reach a decision which will then be handed down in public and made available to the parties.

When any legal arguments have been resolved, the Chair will then move on to confirm the registrant’s details including their GOC number. They will be asked whether or not there are any admissions to the alleged facts. If all of the facts are admitted and effectively proved, the case will move on to consider whether or not the professional’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

If the facts remain in dispute, the case will move on to what is commonly known as the fact-finding stage. In summary, the GOC presenting officer will outline the allegations and produce any evidence they rely upon to prove their case which may involve calling witnesses. The registrant’s representative will have the opportunity to question witnesses with a view to undermining the GOC case.

The registrant, through the legal representative, will then call evidence in support of the defence case which will generally involve giving evidence and calling witnesses. You may face questions from the GOC representative and the committee members.

Both sides will then have the opportunity to make closing submissions on the evidence before the committee retires to decide the facts. It is for the GOC to prove their case against a registrant and

they must do so to the civil standard of proof, which means that they must show that the alleged conduct is more likely than not to have happened.

If none of the facts are found proved, then the case will be concluded but if any are proved, the case will move to what is known as the impairment stage.

During the impairment stage, the GOC will set out their position on impairment with reference to the statutory grounds of misconduct, deficient professional performance, adverse health and/or cautions/convictions for a criminal offence. Your representative will then make submissions as to why your fitness to practise is not currently impaired and it will be a matter for the committee to decide.

If the committee decides that your fitness to practise is not currently impaired, then the case will end with no further action. If, however, they conclude that your fitness to practise is currently impaired then the case will move on to the sanction stage.

At this point the GOC will set out what sanctions they feel would be appropriate taking account of the particular circumstances of the case. Your representative will have the opportunity to make submissions about the possible sanctions and present mitigation on your behalf.

The committee must then decide what, if any, sanction would be the most appropriate and proportionate to impose. Their decision will be handed down in public along with the reasons for it. The sanctions available to the committee include:

  • Impose conditions (for up to 3 years and subject to review)
  • Suspension from the register (for up to 12 months)
  • Erasure from the register
  • Impose a financial penalty of up to £50,000 (in addition to any other sanction)

The committee will have to decide whether any order they impose needs to be immediate or not and this will be done having heard submissions from both parties. If an immediate order is not made, then the order will take effect after 28 days during which time you may appeal the decision to the High Court.

Our experience

Olliers have considerable experience in the professional discipline sector and we regularly deal with the full range of fitness to practise issues across a number of professions, including:

  • Clinical incidents
  • Poor performance
  • Criminal convictions/allegations
  • Misconduct
  • Dishonesty allegations
  • Misuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Fitness to practise concerns based on a professional’s physical or mental health


Olliers are able to assist you on either an hourly rate basis or we can be instructed on an ‘agreed fee’ in order to provide peace of mind that costs will not escalate beyond what is agreed. We are happy to provide a tailored quote for your individual case. We also have experience dealing with many of the leading insurance providers and medical defence organisations so are happy to discuss your needs with them to ensure that you get the best representation from your legal partner of choice.

Should you require assistance with any matter brought by the GOC please contact our specialist professional disciplinary team to discuss how Olliers can assist

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