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Psychotherapists win the right to challenge health professions council plans for statutory regulation

Date: 13 December 2010

Mr Justice Burton has given six psychotherapy and psychoanalysis practitioner groups permission to proceed with what he described as an “important” judicial review challenge to proposals for their regulation by the Health Professions Council (HPC).

John Halford, Partner at Bindmans LLP, represents the six psychotherapy and psychoanalysis practitioner groups. The groups' barrister, Dinah Rose QC argued that the HPC had unlawfully ducked critical questions about whether psychotherapy and psychoanalysis should be regulated by statute and, more importantly, whether the HPC is fit for purpose in this context given its focus on the measurable outcomes of medical-style interventions. Their judicial review was ruled to have been brought without delay and was “clearly arguable” in the judge’s view. Giving a short oral judgment, Mr Justice Burton went on to criticise the misleading nature of HPC statements. Practitioner groups had been led to believe the HPC were considering and would be reporting to the Department of Health on whether it should be the regulator in circumstances where this was apparently never planned or done.

During the course of the litigation the Department of Health has maintained a neutral stance and put plans to introduce legislation on hold to await the Court’s decision. The HPC will now have five weeks to file further evidence before the case is listed for a full hearing in the Spring.

Professor Darian Leader of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research, one of the six practitioner groups, said:

“It is very unfortunate that the HPC has chosen to use its existing registrants’ fees to fight this case to date. We are told by its solicitors that its legal costs already run to £47,000. This money could be used to produce a meaningful report on how best to regulate the talking therapies. Instead it is being used to defend an empire-building decision that today’s ruling exposes as being legally questionable and, in our view, is perverse and unsustainable. The HPC was charged with investigating the regulatory needs of practitioner groups such as ours and deciding whether statutory regulation was appropriate at all and, if it was, whether it was the right regulator. It simply evaded those questions. We hope the HPC will now show itself to be appropriately sensitive to the indication given by the Court, withdraw its current proposals for regulation and step aside so a body that is actually capable of improving standards and protect the public in this difficult field can be created.”



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