The Administrative Court has handed down judgment in the case of Dr X which raises important issues about the extent to which a regulator may have to modify its usual publication procedures for reporting disciplinary outcomes where the practitioner claims that publication would expose him or her to a real and immediate risk of death.
Dr X appeared before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal (MPT) to face allegations of dishonesty and sexual misconduct. The latter arose from an online conversation of a sexual nature he had pursued with an individual who, in the course of the exchange, told Dr X that he was 15 years old and had a 14 year-old friend who would also like to meet Dr X. In fact, Dr X was communicating with a member of a paedophile vigilante group who reported his conduct to the police who in turn reported it to the GMC. The dishonesty arose from the fact that when confronted with the allegations, Dr X had repeatedly lied to both the police and his employing Hospital Trust by claiming that he had a therapeutic motive for continuing the conversation after he discovered his interlocutor’s supposed age. The MPT found the misconduct to be made out on both counts and suspended Dr X from the Register for 12 months.
Dr X argued that disclosure of the outcome of the hearing (even in the redacted form proposed by the GMC) would lead him to take his own life rather than face the disapproval of his family and the public at large.
The Court accepted the GMC’s submissions that even in a case where there was evidence of a real and immediate risk to the life of the practitioner, the GMC was still entitled to balance this against the public interest in maintaining the integrity of the medical register and public confidence in it. However, on the facts of the present case, Soole J found that the balance came down firmly in favour of maintaining full anonymization of the outcome of the proceedings.
The Court also rejected the GMC’s appeal against the sanction of suspension. The Court held that the MPT was entitled to find that 12 months’ suspension with a review was sufficient to protect the public in the circumstances of the case.