What are the consequences of a criminal charge or conviction on a health practitioner or aspiring health practitioner?
Who does this apply to?
Health practitioners, including chiropractors, dentists, doctors, nurses, medical radiation practitioners, midwives, occupational therapists, optometrists, osteopaths, pharmacists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, and psychologists are subject to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (“National Law”), which applies in each state and territory across Australia. The National Law sets out the general standards each of these practitioners must abide by, as well as outlining the process through which they may be registered under the relevant board.
I am applying for registration as a health practitioner? What do I need to do?
Section 52(1)(c) of the National Law sets out that a person is eligible for registration as a health practitioner if they are a suitable person to hold general registration in the health profession. Section 55(1)(b) empowers the relevant board to have regard to a person’s criminal history to determine whether the individual is or is not, in the board’s opinion, an appropriate person to practise in their profession or whether it is or is not in the public interest to have that person practise in the profession. What this essentially means is that if you have a criminal conviction, your suitability to practise as a health practitioner may be challenged, and you should seek legal advice immediately.
If you have been convicted of a criminal offence in the past, the relevant board will consider a range of factors in determining whether this renders you unsuitable to practise. These may include the offence committed, the scale of offending, the time since the offending conduct occurred, the circumstances surrounding the offence, your age at the time the offence was committed, and more. The National Law requires you to disclose your criminal history when making your application to register, as well as authorise the relevant board to have access to your criminal history. As such, if you fail to disclose your criminal history, it is highly likely the board will discover it anyway, and you may be charged with an offence of making a false or misleading statement. This will increase the probability of your application being challenged on grounds of unsuitability, as you will now have demonstrated dishonesty on top of your prior criminal convictions.
I am currently studying to become a health practitioner. What do I need to do?
If you are currently studying to become a health practitioner, and were required to register with a national board external to your education provider upon the commencement of your studies or during your studies, you are obligated to give the relevant board notice if you are charged with an offence punishable by 12 months or more; or convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment. You must do this within 7 days of you finding out about the relevant event (eg the charges being laid or conviction being recorded).
I am already registered and have been charged or convicted. Do I need to make a disclosure?
If you are already registered and practising as a health practitioner, you are obligated to disclose if you are charged with an offence punishable by 12 months imprisonment or greater in any jurisdiction; or are convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment of any duration. It is irrelevant if you are not actually sent to prison as part of your sentence. It is also irrelevant if the offence occurred inside or outside Australia, you must disclose it. You must do this within 7 days of you finding out about the relevant event (eg the charges being laid or conviction being recorded).
What if I don’t tell the board?
The relevant board is empowered to conduct a criminal history check at any time, including upon applications for re-registration. National boards also likely conducts audits on a regular basis.
Our criminal and litigation lawyers regularly act for health practitioners who are charged with criminal offences, or are subject to disciplinary proceedings by the administering board relevant to their specific area of practice. If you have been charged with a criminal offence, or are concerned with how previous convictions may impact your career, contact our office.
Please note that this advice is for general background information only and is not intended as legal advice you can rely on. To obtain legal advice you can rely on you must contact a lawyer who can advise you on the basis of your personal circumstances.