West Law Report

RUSSELL v GENERAL MEDICAL COUNCIL

Posted in Westlaw Reports by mrkooenglish on August 1, 2008

Queen’s Bench Division (Admin) Dyson LJ July 24, 2008

Last Updated: 8:56PM BST 30 Jul 2008

Bipolar disorder – Conditions – Fitness to practise – Procedural irregularity Proportionality – Suspension – Breach of conditions of medical registration

FACTS

The appellant medical practitioner (R) appealed against a decision of the Fitness to Practise Panel of the respondent GMC to suspend her from medical practice for two months. R had bipolar disorder, which the panel had found to seriously impair her fitness to practise. Accordingly, the panel imposed various conditions upon her medical registration, one of which was abstinence from alcohol. R admitted to having consumed alcohol and the matter came back before the panel. Having heard evidence from various medical professionals, the panel again found that R’s fitness to practise was impaired by her disorder and also that she had not complied with the abstinence condition. It then invited submissions upon the form of sanction that should be imposed. After an adjournment, the panel reconvened and concluded that R should be suspended for a period of two months. It held that any breach of conditions should be considered as serious and that, having regard to the public interest and to the integrity of the medical profession, it would be insufficient merely to extend the conditions on R’s registration. It held that it would be disproportionate to suspend R for 12 months, but that it would be sufficient to send a signal to the medical profession by imposing a suspension of two months. R submitted that (1) there had been procedural unfairness, as the panel had not indicated before the adjournment that a suspension was under consideration and it had not invited R’s counsel to make submissions on the effect a suspension would have on R’s health and career; (2) the suspension imposed was disproportionate, as the panel had not addressed the impact of the suspension on R’s health and career, and had imposed it, not on a basis related to her personal circumstances, but as a signal to the medical profession.

ISSUES

(i) Whether there had been procedural unfairness.

(ii) Whether the suspension imposed was disproportionate.

HELD (appeal dismissed)

(1) There had been no procedural unfairness in the matter. There was no authority for the proposition that the panel was under an obligation to draw to the parties’ attention the fact that it was minded to impose a specific kind of sanction. In any event, R’s counsel ought to have known that the sanction could have been in the form of a suspension. If R had not had any legal representation, the situation might have been different. Further, the possibility of a suspension was canvassed before the panel, and R’s counsel made submissions on why a suspension should not be imposed. If she had wished to elaborate, she had had the opportunity to do so. R’s counsel could have sought to adduce further evidence as to the likely impact of a suspension on R’s health and career, but was apparently contented to confine herself to the brief submissions she made on the point.

(2) The panel was entitled to impose the sanction it did. The panel would have known that her health and career might have been affected: it needed no evidence for that. Also, the panel was entitled to place weight on public interest considerations and the reputation of the profession. Those were plainly important factors to be balanced on the question of proportionality.

Mary O’Rourke (instructed by RadcliffesLeBrasseur, Cardiff) for the appellant. Ivan Hare (instructed by GMC) for the respondent.

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