A regulatory prosecution issued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) against Homeopathy Plus, resulted in a four day trial in November 2013. It was held in the Federal Court in Sydney, Australia and was presided over by Justice Melissa Perry. The trial ran from Monday 18th November to Thursday 21st November 2013. Homeopathy Plus – as well as Ms Fran Sheffield personally were charged with engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct by ACCC according to section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and of making false or misleading representations in contravention of sections 29(1)(a) and (b) of the ACL.
On Monday 22nd December 2014, those charges were found to be proven in a decision handed down by Justice Perry. The full judgement was published online on Wednesday 24th December. A directions hearing has been set down for Wednesday 4th February 2015 on the question of penalties.
I was in the courtroom on 19th and 20th November 2013 and my friend Carolyn Bond was there for the final day 21st November 2013. We were the only two members of public in court who kept notes of some of the proceedings. While the decision [see link] details the key arguments and evidence, I thought some people may be interested to read some of our observations and reflections of the court process and the arguments and evidence as presented.
Of course, this post contains personal views and reflections about the case and the hearing. It should not be relied upon as legal opinion.
Fran Sheffield is a former Registered Nurse who at some stage discarded all of her medical knowledge and became a homeopath. As far back as 2010 Ms Sheffield and her business Homeopathy Plus have been the subject of complaints, investigations and adverse findings by regulatory bodies. Most of these have centred around her claims that homeopathic vaccines (homeoprophylaxis) are a safe and effective alternative to orthodox vaccines.
Most of these complaints have come from Professor Ken Harvey a committed and passionate health consumer advocate. This particular case dates back to 2011 when Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) found that Homeopathy Plus! had breached several sections of the TGA Advertising Code and was ordered to post a retraction on her website. But Ms Sheffield refused to post the retraction saying that she wasn’t advertising but providing information.
In April 2012 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) initiated an investigation into similar claims as those investigated by the TGA about information on the Homeopathy Plus website. Ms Sheffield was asked by ACCC to remove an article from her website that claimed that the pertussis vaccine was “no longer effective” and “short lived and unreliable”. That article is referred to in the judgment as First Whooping Cough Article. Ms Sheffield complied with that request but then reposted the article later that year in a revised version which is referred to in the judgment as Second Whooping Cough Article.
In February 2013, Ms Sheffield posted on her website that the ACCC advised her that content on the Homeopathy Plus website was potentially misleading and deceptive. She was also advised that if she accepted liablility and agreed to the orders made by the ACCC that the matter could be settled by mutual consent. Ms Sheffield refused that course of action because she believed the information she supplied was correct. As a result, that matter went to the Federal Court.
DISCLAIMER: This post contains personal views and reflections about the case and the hearing. It should not be relied upon as legal opinion.