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High Court rejects BMA’s challenge to new GMC Rules

In R (BMA) v GMC, Hickinbottom J rejected all grounds of the BMA’s challenge the new Rules on the provision of legal advice to Medical Practitioners Tribunals (formerly Fitness to Practise Panels) by legally qualified chairs.  Fitness to Practise Panels were traditionally composed of non-lawyers: a mixture of medical and lay members.  They were always advised by a Legal Assessor who was required to provide any legal advice in the presence of the parties and to invite them to comment on it.  That remains the case where a Legal Assessor is appointed.  However, under the new Rules (in force since 1 January 2016), a legally qualified chair of a Tribunal has a discretion and may include any advice given to the other members in camera in the decision unless it would be unfair not to invite the parties to comment upon it.  The BMA argued that the new Rules were in breach of common law principles of fairness and Article 6 of the ECHR and created an irrational distinction between the rights of doctors appearing before a Tribunal which had a legal chair compared to one with a Legal Assessor.  Hickinbottom J found that the new Rules assimilated the position of the Tribunal with a legally qualified chair to that of other tribunals with mixed composition (such as the Employment Tribunal) and there was nothing unfair in that.

Ivan Hare appeared for the GMC.