GOC introduces new policy on service of notices by email

The policy outlines how and when the regulator will service notices electronically, how consent will be obtained, and the safeguards in place

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The General Optical Council (GOC) has published a new policy on the service of statutory notices by email.

Statutory notices are required to be issued through GOC legislation as part of some registration and fitness to practise processes.

Through the new policy, the GOC will be able to serve notices by email to any registrant or applicant who gives consent in writing. Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

The policy will be fully implemented in registration processes as of summer 2022, in line with the launch of the new MyGOC registrant portal, and so will not apply to the upcoming renewal period for registrants in January 2022, the regulator confirmed.

In fitness to practise cases, the GOC said it will continue to seek consent in individual cases by emailing the registrant, until consent can be obtained through the MyGOC portal.

The policy also outlines a number of safeguards that will be in place to ensure fairness for registrants and applicants. This includes measures to check whether a notice sent by email has been received by the intended recipient – such as sending the notice by first class post.

Director of resources at the GOC, Yeslin Gearty, explained that the GOC began serving notices by email in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reviewing this approach, Gearty confirmed: “We will only consider serving notices by email where the registrant or applicant has consented in writing and provided an email address for this purpose.”

“We recognise that there may be additional risks in sending notices by email, which is why the policy sets out a range of safeguards,” Gearty continued, adding: “We hope that the implementation of consent via our new MyGOC portal next year will make this process easy for our registrants in the future.”

The policy was developed following a public consultation, which took place alongside another two consultations on the GOC’s updated remote hearings protocol and hearings and indicative sanctions guidance – which both came into effect on December 20.

In addition to the new policy, the GOC shared its consultation response, which highlights some of the comments raised through the process.

The AOP developed a response to these consultations earlier this year, taking the interests of members into account. The AOP’s consultation responses can be found online.

The AOP illustrated the importance of appropriate service of notices, in reference to a case represented by the AOP’s legal team. In the case, the registrant was unaware they had been served an interim order notice of hearing, and subsequently, that they were subject to an order. The High Court has now sealed a consent order between the AOP and the GOC, finding in the AOP’s favour. Read more about this case on OT.

Commenting in an interview around the case, Cassandra Dighton, head of professional discipline for the AOP, emphasised the importance of having safeguards in place under the new policy, stating: “A registrant of the GOC would need to know a notice has been served so that they can prepare properly, obtain legal advice and be properly represented at a hearing.”