Written by trainee, Laura Penny
Abbas v General Medical Council EWHC 51 (Admin)
The recent decision in Abbas provides a useful overview on the general approach to sanction where there is a finding of dishonesty.
The case concerned A, a specialist registrar in general medicine. There were numerous allegations against A, including allegations of dishonesty and disregard for the conditions that had been placed on his registration by an interim order panel (IOP).
The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service found that A's fitness to practice was impaired. The Tribunal considered the possible sanctions it could impose, considering the March 2016 'Sanctions Guidance', and determined that erasure of A's name from the medical register was the appropriate sanction. Following the ruling, A was suspended immediately.
A appealed the decision of the Tribunal, with one of his grounds being that the sanction of erasure was disproportionate.
In relation to this allegation, the Court found that erasure was a likely sanction when there has been dishonesty. Additionally, A had been dishonest on more than one occasion and over a considerable period. He had dishonestly misled the IOP and breached conditions on his registration, and the fact that he lacked any insight into his errors was particularly significant.
The Court cited Naheed v GMC  EWCH 2022 (Admin), which set out that when there has been a finding of dishonesty, 'nothing short of erasure is likely to be appropriate'. Additionally, the Court referred to the slightly more nuanced articulation given by Blake J in Atkinson v GMC  EWHC 3636 (Admin):
'erasure is not necessarily inevitable and necessary in every case where dishonest conduct by a medical practitioner has been substantiated. There are cases where the panel, or indeed the court on appeal, have concluded in the light of the particular elements that a lesser sanction may suffice and it is the appropriate sanction bearing in mind the important balance of the interests of the profession and the interests of the individual.'
In A's case, the Court found that even on facts which concerned a less serious allegation of dishonesty, erasure was still a sanction which was properly open to the Tribunal. The Court subsequently dismissed the Appeal.
The case demonstrates that a finding of dishonesty is a key factor when deciding which sanction will be appropriate. Although it may be highly likely that dishonest conduct will lead to erasure/strike off, the Court will consider the individual circumstances of each case and balance the registrant's interests with the need to protect the public interest.