2021 archived consultation: Remote hearings protocol


23 Sep 2021


30 Jun 2021

This consultation was previously hosted on our consultation hub. We have moved it here as part of archiving.

We asked

We asked stakeholders to provide feedback on proposed updates to the GOC Remote Hearings protocol. We were conscious that we implemented the original protocol at pace following rapid consultation and have sought to embed some of the positive principles that we implemented since March 2020. We conducted a full public consultation to assess the impact, benefits or disbenefits to these proposals.

You said

There was a positive consensus in terms of the changes to the protocol. Most respondents agreed that the updated protocol achieved our aim of maintaining the focus on public protection while balancing fairness to registrants. There were some minor elements identified that could be tweaked to achieve the best outcomes. The general feedback suggested:

  • The majority agreed with our expectations that most non-substantive events should be conducted remotely. Although some suggested that this should be with the caveat that a physical hearing could be scheduled if required.
  • The definitions set out by the GOC as to when the suitability factors for no or minimal government restrictions could be clearer.
  • Respondents considered that there were occasions when contested evidence could be dealt with at remote hearings. Suitability factors should not be so narrow to avoid a remote hearing where contested evidence is present.
  • The GOC should remove reference to the Coronavirus Amendment Rules which would expire by the time the new document is published.
  • The GOC should review advice relating to taking a religious oath or affirmation in line with the Equal Treatment Bench Book.

We did

We reviewed the responses from the consultation and decided whether to accept, reject or incorporate the feedback. The following amendments have been made:

  • Made it clear that we expect most non-substantive events to take place remotely but will consider all relevant factors to decide on the best mode of hearing.
  • The definitions as to when suitability factors should be used have been revised.
  • Removed reference in the suitability factors which implied that contested evidence would be more appropriate at an in-person hearing.
  • Removed reference to the Coronavirus Amendment Rules and instead set out the process of adjournments in line with our current Rules.
  • Confirmed that the oath or affirmation can be taken even if the holy book is not physically present in accordance with the Equal Treatment Bench book.
Original consultation


As the UK regulator for optometrists and dispensing opticians, we are committed to protecting the public, maintaining standards and responding to concerns about the fitness to practise of registrants. As part of our fitness to practise process, there are circumstances in which we hold hearings.

We recognise that it is in the fair administration of justice and important to registrants and to other parties involved in our fitness to practise proceedings, to follow a fair process and achieve a fair resolution as quickly as possible.

The aim of the remote hearings protocol is to support all parties to the fitness to practise process with the administration and progression of hearings as the restrictive lockdown measures we have been in continue to ease.

We implemented the protocol in July 2020, and updated it in November 2020 to have regard to the guidance for regulators on fitness to practise hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic published by the Professional Standards Authority. We have considered the learning from the application of the protocol and the circumstances we are operating within, and have reviewed the protocol to ensure that it continues to be fair to registrants while ensuring our overarching objective of protecting the public.

We have made some updates to the protocol (available on the ‘related’ section at the end of the page), which can be summarised as follows:

  • the focus of the policy has shifted to the administration and progression of hearings as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease;
  • parties will now have the option of attending a hearing remotely or in person. In each case, we will consider the position of both parties in deciding whether a case is suitable to be heard physically, remotely or as a hybrid or blended hearing (definitions of these terms are found in the draft document);
  • we have included a (non-exhaustive) list of suitability factors if there are no, or minimal, government restrictions in place;
  • we have included reference to the temporary amendments made to The General Optical Council (Fitness to Practise) Rules 2013 by The General Optical Council (Committee Constitution, Registration and Fitness to Practise) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020, as well as relevant policies such as the GOC’s proposed service of statutory notices by email policy; and
  • we have expressed an expectation that most non-substantive hearings should take place remotely.

We have completed an impact assessment (which is included on the ‘related’ section at the end of the page).

Why your views matter

Due to the circumstances at the time, we implemented the original protocol at pace and with rapid consultation. As we seek to embed some of the positive principles that we have worked through over the last year, we are conducting a full consultation to assess the impact, benefits or disbenefits to these proposals. 

We consider that the updated protocol will increase transparency about the decision-making process and be more inclusive of registrants’ views while continuing to protect the public. We are interested in stakeholders’ views on these amendments before we finalise the updated remote hearings protocol.

The public consultation will be open for 12 weeks.