calling witnesses and video link evidence in fitness to practise proceedings

In January 2017 the High Court heard the appeal of Dr Ali Abbas against the decision of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (“MPTS”) to erase his name from the medical register.

Dr Abbas appealed to the High Court following his MPTS Fitness to Practise Panel hearing on a number of grounds.

The GMC had investigated Dr Abbas in relation to allegations of dishonesty and these allegations were then tested and found proved at the MPTS Fitness to Practise Panel hearing in June 2016. Dr Abbas’ fitness to practise was then found to be impaired and the Panel went on to erase his name from the medical register having found that his actions had been deliberate and dishonest. This sanction was brought into effect immediately which effectively meant that Dr Abbas’ name was removed from the medical register from the date of the MPTS decision, to include the 28 day appeal period and thereafter until the decision of the High Court was delivered.

Dr Abbas appealed this decision on a number of general grounds, including:

  • the fact that the GMC had not called witnesses to give evidence that he felt they should have called; and
  • that some witnesses gave evidence by video link which he said was unfair

The appeal hearing was held in January 2017.

In relation to the witnesses not called by the GMC, Mr Justice Nicol, hearing the case, made it clear that the GMC had called sufficient witnesses to enable them to prove most of the allegations in question and they therefore was therefore no need for them to call any additional witnesses.

Mr Justice Nicol also noted that it was open to Dr Abbas to have called any witnesses he wished to call and that, had the witnesses not wished to attend to give evidence, Tribunals of this kind do have the power to compel witness attendance.

In terms of the video link evidence, Mr Justice Nicol went on to state that the rules governing Tribunals of this nature do permit witnesses to give evidence by video link. It was made clear that this is a case management matter but that fundamentally, it could not be said that witnesses giving evidence by video link, rendered the proceedings unfair to Dr Abbas with Mr Justice Nicol stating “the hearing must still be fair to the parties, but the Appellant did not, and could not have, argued that the decision to allow [a witness] to give evidence via videolink led to the hearing being unfair.”

Mr Justice Nicol went on to dismiss the appeal.

We bring this case to the attention of our readers as it raises interesting points and provides current guidance on issues we regularly face in defending our doctor clients at MPTS Fitness to Practise Panel hearings.

If you are a doctor or other regulated professional requiring assistance with an investigation or fitness to practise related proceedings, please do give our specialist team a call on 0161 827 9500.