The UK's fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has published a long-awaited review of its conduct in relation to IVF specialist Mohamed Taranissi and related legal proceedings.
In June 2009, the HFEA's chief executive Alan Doran asked its director of strategy and information Peter Thompson 'to review the adequacy of the Authority's revised governance arrangements in relation to the threshold between administrative enforcement of our powers and the sphere of criminal law'. Given that the Taranissi affair was widely thought to have reflected badly on the HFEA, and given subsequent changes in the governance of the HFEA, Doran wished to establish whether 'the changes we have made would be sufficient in the (admittedly rare) eventuality that similar decisions needed to be made in future'. Thompson's report, 'Doing the Right Things the Right Way: A Review of Governance at the HFEA', was finally presented to the HFEA on 14 September 2011 and has been published on the HFEA website.
The review presents five recommendations to the HFEA, in order to address outstanding areas of concern. These recommendations are: 'bespoke legal training focusing on the limitations of the powers to revoke, vary or suspend a licence'; 'criteria on the issues to take into account when deciding to seek a warrant'; 'a memorandum of understanding with the Association of Chief Police Officers setting out the respective roles of the Authority and the police'; 'a new standard operating procedure for media handling'; and new 'guidance on information access, to address the interplay between formal statutory access regimes and media enquiries'.
The review also examines the events surrounding the HFEA's dealings with Taranissi. Thompson neither endorses nor questions any previous findings of HFEA Licence Committees, nor the outcome of legal proceedings relating to the Taranissi affair. Rather, he passes judgement on the adequacy of governance and practice at a time when 'the HFEA departed from its usual regulatory practice into uncharted waters'. Most of the aspects of past governance and practice that he examines are found to be inadequate. By contrast, Thompson finds most aspects of current and recent HFEA governance and practice to be adequate.
Problems highlighted by Thompson in relation to the Taranissi affair include 'the potential impact of the shifting Licence Committee membership'; 'an inadequate separation between the regulatory functions and the licensing functions of the Authority'; uncertainty over 'how to manage the tension between informal contact and the formal aspects of the licensing process' and over 'the process to be followed when seeking a warrant, or the issues to be considered when making that judgement'; and the fact that 'there was no procedure in place at the time for registering a crime or setting out the respective roles which the HFEA and the police would need to play in order to undertake a criminal investigation'.