Hayat v General Medical Council  EWHC 1899 (Admin)
A recent High Court decision serves as a warning to all Tribunals to consider and evaluate with great care any medical evidence they receive pertaining to an adjournment on grounds of ill-health. If an individual is declared unfit for work, it is likely that they will also be unfit to withstand the demands and rigour of a disciplinary hearing.
The Appellant appealed against the decision of a panel of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal ("the Tribunal"), dated 15 February 2017, which found that his fitness to practise was impaired and imposed the sanction of erasure from the register.
The allegations arose out of a claim which he made on 18 October 2012 on a critical illness insurance policy, stating that he had suffered a heart attack whilst in Pakistan on 8 September 2012. In support of his claim, he submitted medical reports from the Faisalabad Institute where he claimed to have been admitted for treatment. His insurance company investigated the claim and concluded it was false. They referred the matter to the General Medical Council ("the GMC"). At the Tribunal hearing, his actions were found to be dishonest and misleading. The Tribunal found that he had committed misconduct, and that his fitness to practise was impaired. The sanction imposed was erasure from the register.
The Appellant submitted four grounds of appeal but the Court only expressed their views on Ground 1 (so as not to unduly influence the new panel in their deliberations); that it was procedurally unfair to proceed with the hearing in his absence, after refusing his applications for an adjournment.
In response, the Respondent submitted that the Appellant chose to absent himself from the hearing and failed to provide medical evidence that he was not fit to attend. As a result, his complaint that it was unfair for the proceedings to continue in his absence was without merit.
The Appellant was taken ill at the hearing on Monday 31 October and it was adjourned. On Friday 4 November, the Tribunal received medical evidence stating that the Appellant had recovered from his illness and was well enough to undergo court proceedings. However, on Monday 7 November, the Appellant produced a GP's certificate which stated that he had developed "post angiography right arm bruising +/- infection" for which he needed antibiotics and was declared unfit for work.
The Tribunal disregarded the GP's certificate that the Appellant was unfit for work because it did not also say that he was unfit to attend the hearing. The Tribunal granted the GMC's application to proceed in the absence of the Appellant.
The Court found that such evidence ought generally to result in an adjournment, to give effect to the common law duty of fairness, and to avoid a violation of Article 6, by depriving the registrant of the opportunity to present his defence to serious charges. The Tribunal ought to have given careful consideration to the question of whether and to what extent the Appellant's condition would affect his ability to take part in the proceedings. The fact that his GP had certified him as unfit for work should have prompted them to consider whether that could also mean that he was not well enough to conduct a lengthy disciplinary hearing. Conducting the hearing would be demanding and he would need to be well enough to do himself justice. The Tribunal did not give proper consideration to these matters. The Appellant was also deprived of the opportunity to give his evidence, and to challenge the evidence of the regulator's witnesses at the fact-finding stage.
For these reasons, the High Court concluded that the Appellant did not receive a fair hearing. The Tribunal's decision was unjust because of a serious procedural irregularity, and therefore the appeal was allowed and the Appellant will have a re-hearing before a fresh panel.