Delisting professional discipline from Google
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A right to be forgotten for lawyers, doctors and other professionals
The concept of the right to be forgotten allows individuals to request the removal of their personal information from online platforms under certain circumstances. This includes data which refers to criminal convictions. However, a lingering question remains: can a professional person, such as a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant, have a conviction removed under the right to be forgotten? This question raises complex ethical and legal considerations, as well as the potential impact on an individual's professional reputation and livelihood.
The right to be forgotten, in the context of online articles related to one's professional life, addresses this concern by allowing individuals to request the removal of certain information that is outdated, irrelevant, or inaccurate. This right recognises the need for individuals to have control over their personal data and to manage their online reputation in a way that aligns with their professional goals. However, it is important to note that the right to be forgotten is not an absolute right and must be balanced with other fundamental rights, such as the right to freedom of expression and access to information.
Consequently, the removal of online articles related to a professional person's conviction under the right to be forgotten would depend on various factors, including the nature of the conviction, the public interest in the information, and the potential harm caused by its presence online. In other words, there isn't a rule that says that a professional person cannot have articles delisted from Google at all. It all depends on the circumstances of each case.
Explain factors that would be relevant to the application of the right to be forgotten to a professional person
Consequently, the removal of online articles related to a professional person's conviction under the right to be forgotten would depend on various factors, including the nature of the conviction, the severity of the offense, the time lapse since the conviction, and whether the individual is still working in the same profession. If a considerable amount of time has passed since the conviction and the individual has demonstrated significant rehabilitation and positive contributions in their professional field, this may weigh in favour of granting the request for removal.
Similarly, if the offense committed was relatively minor and has no bearing on the individual's ability to perform their professional duties, it may be deemed less relevant to their current professional standing. However, it is important to consider the potential public interest in the offense and the right to access information, as these factors may influence the decision regarding the removal of the conviction-related content. Ultimately, each case must be assessed on an individual basis, taking into account the specific circumstances and the overall balance of rights at stake.
To overcome some of the challenges that exists in the delisting from Google searches articles which relate to one’s professional life, a solicitor would need to search for the existence of exceptional circumstances. Obtaining the judge's sentencing remarks can be crucial in understanding the context and circumstances surrounding the conviction. This can provide insight into the judge's views at the time and possibly highlight any mitigating factors that could support the argument for delisting the articles. Another significant aspect to consider is the potential disproportionate impact on the individual's well-being and professional opportunities.
If the presence of these articles has a severe negative impact on the individual's personal and professional life, it may strengthen the case for removal. Overall, the evidence required to convince Google to delist articles about a previous conviction for a professional person involves demonstrating the disproportionate impact, the time lapse since the conviction, obtaining the judge's sentencing remarks, and highlighting the individual's rehabilitation and contributions to their profession.
How to remove articles from Google following a disciplinary ruling by a professional body or a regulator
There are specific challenges which relate to the removal of articles from Google following a disciplinary ruling by a professional body or by a regulator, such as the SRA or the GMC. In cases where there had been disciplinary proceedings by the professional person's regulator, which would have allowed the professional to continue working, the impact on Google's decision can vary. While Google does take into account the regulatory decisions and their outcomes, it does not solely rely on them when considering delisting articles about a professional person's conviction.
Google assesses the overall context and relevance of the information to the public interest. If the conviction is deemed to be of significant public interest, even if the disciplinary proceedings allowed the professional to continue working, Google may still consider the information to be relevant and decline the request for delisting. Therefore, the existence of disciplinary proceedings does not guarantee the removal of articles about the conviction under the right to be forgotten principle.
It is crucial to seek legal advice rather than attempting to navigate the complexities of making a right to be forgotten request under complicated circumstances on your own or simply giving up. Legal professionals have the knowledge and expertise to understand the intricacies of the law and can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation.
They can assess the viability of your request, evaluate the relevant legal frameworks, and determine the best course of action to pursue. Additionally, legal advice can help you understand the potential consequences and implications of your actions, ensuring that you make informed decisions. By relying on legal expertise, you increase your chances of success and minimise the risk of facing unintended consequences.
Our client, Robin, (not his real name), once a successful partner at a solicitors firm, faced an unexpected turn in his career. A connection to another law firm, which was under investigation for fraud, led authorities to scrutinise Robin's property transactions. What seemed like a minor issue in relation to an overlooked transaction, spiralled into a conviction for mortgage fraud, resulting in short term imprisonment. The aftermath of Robin's conviction was far-reaching.
He found himself in the crosshairs of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), leading to an inquiry into his law firm. While some clerical errors were undeniable, Robin, in a bid to shield his business partner and curtail steep legal costs, decided to accept responsibility for the outcome of the regulator’s findings.
This choice culminated in Robin's removal from the Roll in 2010. However, the challenges didn't stop there. A quick Google search of Robin's name revealed the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) findings as the top search result. This digital record significantly hindered Robin's ability to move on with his life and made it almost impossible for him to secure employment. The social side of his life was tremendously affected and so as his mental health.
Hoping to regain normality and mitigate the damaging implications of his online record, Robin approached our law firm for guidance. Our legal team provided Robin with a multipronged strategy. First, we contacted the publisher of the article in question to try and convince them to delete the article. At the same time, we leant on data protection laws, especially the GDPR, to persuade Google that the outdated data was no longer relevant to our client since he was no longer working as a solicitor. Our experience indicated that Google typically refuses such requests, especially if the complainant intends to resume their former profession.
However, Robin's career alteration lent weight to our argument. Furthermore, we contacted the SDT, to ascertain their position in the matter and to ensure that there was no longer a record kept on their website of his now, very old, disciplinary proceedings. Robin agreed to offer several assurances, including a vow never to reapply to the Roll.
Persistence and dedication eventually proved successful. Though initial responses from both Google and the SDT were discouraging, there was a positive turnaround. The SDT revised its publication guidelines, ensuring specific judgments weren't automatically showcased in search engine results, mainly for being out of date. With this at hand, our efforts culminated in Google consenting to remove the news article and all the remaining traces and snippets which had been tied to Robin's identity. Understandably, Robin was immensely relieved.
Robin's predicament brought into sharp focus the intricate nuances surrounding the right to be forgotten, particularly the prevailing exception concerning one's professional life. Navigating this case illuminated the inherent bias within digital platforms towards preserving information related to an individual's professional past. The presumption against delisting news articles from Google pertaining to one's profession presents a significant legal hurdle, emphasising the heightened responsibility on solicitors to present a compelling argument for their client's right to reclaim their digital reputation. As we waded through the complexities of this exception, the legal team who assisted Robin, grappled with the balance between public interest and individual rights.
This case reaffirms the imperative for the legal profession to be both astute and innovative, advocating fiercely against embedded digital biases and championing the nuanced rights of professionals in the digital age.
Case studies are based on true cases where names, dates and circumstances have often been amended to protect the identity of those involved.