In the circumstances of the case it was correct under the General Medical Council Preliminary Proceedings Committee and Professional Conduct Committee (Procedure) Rules Order of Council 1988 r.11(2) for a Professional Conduct Committee of the defendant to consider, in addition to other complaints that had been referred to it, five complaints of professional misconduct that stemmed from allegations of sexual abuse of which the claimant had been acquitted at trial, because at the time of the initial referral the defendant might have been unaware that the five complainants wished to have their complaints determined by the defendant.
The claimant general practitioner (P) applied for judicial review of a decision of a screening officer and a Preliminary Proceedings Committee (PPC) to refer five complaints of professional misconduct that stemmed from allegations of sexual abuse of which the claimant had been acquitted at trial to a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) of the defendant (GMC). P was charged on 34 counts of indecently assaulting 32 patients during medical examinations. The eight "best" cases proceeded to trial. P was acquitted of those counts (the acquittal cases). The trial judge considered that any trial of the outstanding counts (the non-acquittal cases) would amount to an abuse of process and imposed a stay on their prosecution. The non-acquittal cases were subsequently considered in accordance with the General Medical Council Preliminary Proceedings Committee and Professional Conduct Committee (Procedure) Rules Order of Council 1988 by a screening officer and then by a PPC. A letter was dispatched to P containing discrete allegations of professional misconduct that arose from the allegations in the non-acquittal cases. The acquittal cases were not referred to. The matter was referred to the PPC for consideration. Before that consideration took place, the screening officer received a letter from the legal representatives of five complainants in the acquittal cases. The letter stated the complainants' surprise that their complaints had not been included in the professional conduct proceedings being brought against P and expressed their desire to have their complaints determined. Pursuant to r.11(2) of the Rules, the screening officer referred those complaints to the PPC who referred them directly to the PCC. P applied for judicial review of the decision to refer the complaints to the PCC. P submitted, inter alia, that the acquittal cases had been screened out and, as the five complaints arose from them, the screening officer had no power to apply r.11(2) of the Rules and that the GMC should not allow those complaints to proceed.
HELD: The evidence before the court regarding whether the acquittal cases had been screened out was too nebulous for determination. The letter from the complainants in the acquittal cases had informed the GMC of one thing that they might not have known at the time of the initial referral to the PCC, namely whether the complainants were still maintaining their allegations of sexual abuse. The effect of the letter was to confirm that the complainants were desirous to have their complaints heard. Accordingly, it was correct for the matter to proceed to the PCC for consideration. It was also for the PCC to determine whether there had been an abuse of process in the manner in which the professional misconduct proceedings against P had been brought. There should be no restraint on the five acquittal cases going before the PCC and the application for judicial review could not succeed.
(2005) 82 BMLR 135
William Meade (Senior Clerk)