News - GMC v Dr X

Professional Regulatory & Discipline - Mark Sutton QC

Administrative Court upholds judicial review challenge that proposed publication of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal’s determination would breach the doctor’s Article 2 rights and be Wednesbury unreasonable. GMC’s sanction appeal rejected. Mark Sutton QC appeared for the doctor.

CASE NOTE

The High Court quashed the decision of the GMC to publish the details of Dr X’s suspension arising out of findings of sexual misconduct and dishonesty, considering the real and immediate risk that Dr X would commit suicide if such information was made publicly available.

Dr X is a medical practitioner in the paediatric field. The Medical Practitioners Tribunal upheld allegations of sexual misconduct and dishonesty arising from an online sexual conversation with an adult member of paedophile vigilante group who identified himself as aged 15. The member reported the conversation to the police, who in turn reported it to the GMC. The MPT imposed a 12-month suspension on Dr X’s registration, subject to further review.

Following an MPT hearing at which misconduct was found proved and 12 months suspension imposed, the GMC sought to publish the decision of the MPT without anonymisation. Dr X applied for judicial review of the GMC’s decision and the GMC made an application under s.40A Medical Act 1983 that the sanction of suspension was too lenient and that the doctor should have been erased.

Appeal against sanction

The High Court did not agree with the GMC that the sanction of suspension was insufficient to protect the public, holding that the Tribunal’s findings were not inconsistent and that they had properly considered the relevant guidance in respect of sustained dishonesty and the sanction of erasure.

Anonymisation

It was accepted by the GMC that its duty to publish MPT decisions “in such manner as they see fit” under s.35B(4) Medical Act 1983 is subject to its obligations as a public authority under the Human Right Act 1998. It was further accepted, on the basis of the psychiatric evidence, that the right to life under Article 2 was engaged, as there was a real and immediate risk to the life of Dr X if the MPT decision was published without anonymisation.

The Court held that it must undertake a balancing exercise which takes account of the public interest to determine whether the publication in the manner proposed will constitute a breach of Article 2. This balancing exercise is not limited to the question of resources or the burden of compliance.

In the particular facts of the case, it was held that the real and immediate risk of suicide by Dr X if the decision was published in the form proposed overwhelmed the public interest that informed the duties of the GMC.

[Case summary by Grace Boorer, pupil at Old Square Chambers]

Mark Sutton QC, leading David Morris, appeared for Dr X.

To view the full judgment, please click here.

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