Professional disciplinary hearing on Google
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Can you remove a publication of professional discipline from Google
Professional people who are being regulated, either by a professional body or by a designated regulator, might find it difficult to continue to pursue their career, and often any other career, whilst details of their disciplinary decision is still published online and links to it are found on Google searches. Removing references to a disciplinary decision is often challenging but not impossible.
Mr Malic (not his real name) was a counsellor who contacted our law firm after the publication of a Professional conduct disciplinary notice by The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
The disciplinary notice, together with a summary of the allegations against him, included a script of his disciplinary hearing before BACP, which contained both, allegations that he had been cleared from and more minor allegations, that had been upheld.
Following the disciplinary hearing, where Mr Malic received a period of time of suspension from BACP, BACP followed its internal policy and published the notice of the disciplinary hearing, together with a transcript of it on its website.
The idea, presumably, was to demonstrate transparency by the organisation, but this came at the expense of Mr Malic’s right to privacy.
A few weeks after details about the disciplinary hearing was placed on their website, a link to the hearing began to appear on Google search results in relation to Mr Malic’s name.
The information that that BACP published on their website included a description of the facts which had been placed before the disciplinary committee, and particularly that Mr Malic had been subjected to a client’s compliant that he had made the client feel uncomfortable during a counselling session and that he had made inappropriate advances towards her.
The disciplinary panel concluded that Mr Malic had failed to recognise, maintain and respect professional boundaries with a client but it was not satisfied that Mr Malic made inappropriate advance towards the complainant. Following the disciplinary hearing , Mr Malic received a period of time of suspension from BACP.
Mr Malic wanted the publication of his disciplinary hearing, to be removed from Google searches, firstly because it described complaints which has not been upheld, and secondly, because he believed that there was no longer public interest in the publication.
The public interest argument for continuous publication of decisions by professional disciplinary bodies might seem obvious at first sight, but in many cases, upon closer examination, the public interest argument often has no basis. Upon his suspension, Mr. Malik secured work elsewhere with a different profession altogether and did not intend to go back and practice as a therapist.
At one point, he nearly lost his new job, after someone in the workplace found a link to the disciplinary hearing. Luckily for him, Mr Malic was able to explain what had happened and was able, for time being to continue with his current employment.
He became, however, extremely concerned that the ongoing publication of details about the disciplinary hearing on Google search results, would impact his private and professional life to the extent that he will never be able to secure employment or personal relationships again.
As he was no longer working in the field for which he had been professionally disciplined, there was no public interest any longer in informing potential patients of his previous disciplinary proceedings. Mr. Malic had a family of two young children who were of a dependable age, a mortgage to pay, as well as other financial commitments. He was worried that should customers of his employer discover the links on Google, his employer, he may lose his job and consequently his home and ability to provide for his children and family.
The potential consequences that could amount from this publication led to Mr. Malic becoming so distressed that after a while he was diagnosed with having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was prescribed medication. Mr. Malic could no longer bear to see the publication on Google about his professional discipline suspension.
There are usually two methods to secure the removal of details of a disciplinary hearing from Google searches.
The first, method to remove information about a disciplinary hearing from Google searches is to serve a formal GDPR Notice on the original publisher of the information, to request the removal of their publication.
The second method to remove information about a disciplinary hearing from Google searches is to apply to Google to under a right to be forgotten, to remove the search results, which feature the disciplinary hearing information from Google searches.
In most cases, it is preferable to remove adverse information from source and only if you are unsuccessful, to have it removed from Google searches.
Mr Malic’s past was in no way relevant to anybody’s assessment of his suitability to engage in a completely different employment or business activity.
There was no imperative need for everyone who searches for Mr Malic’s name to be warned about the professional conduct notice. The only relevance, if any, was for people who were searching for the credentials of a counsellor.
As Mr Malic was no longer working as a counsellor, there was no justification for details about his disciplinary procedure to be published to the entire world. In other words, His professional body was under a duty to process his personal data in accordance with the law and once the legal justification for the publication had lapsed, the professional body could not replace it with another justification for no good reason.
Furthermore, BACP is not a government appointed regulator. In line with the non-regulated regime of counselling in the UK, none of which are officially recognised by the government. Mr Malic was entitled to not have his personal information published to the world at large.
The GDPR Notice to BACP, stated that the Association had acted unlawfully by uploading to its website and by making it available for Google to index on worldwide search results. Mr. Malic was very satisfied with the results we were able to deliver, particularly since his many efforts to have the publication removed had not been successful. Both, his personal and professional life had been preserved and not ruined by the defamatory publication and he was given the peace of mind he so desperately needed.
Requests to remove publications of disciplinary procedure are often resisted at first by the disciplinary body, on what the regulator often believes to be a straight forward case of public interest.
Under GDPR, once a data processor provides a lawful reason for processing personal data, the data processor is bound by the reason given in the first place. Under GDPR, it is unacceptable for a data processing organisation to chop and change lawful reasons for processing the data, unless there is a good reason for doing so.
If the lawful ground given for processing personal data is public interest, once it is shown that the public interest has expired, the organisation must cease from processing the personal data.