High Court Extends Interim Suspension Order on Dr. Carter to Protect Public Safety and Uphold Procedural Fairness

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3199 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the recent case of the General Medical Council v Dr Neill William Roy Carter ([2023] EWHC 3199 (Admin)), Fordham J in the High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division, Administrative Court has reviewed and extended an interim suspension order (ISO) imposed on Dr. Carter. This case underscores the court’s continual balancing of public interest against individual rights and the application of procedural fairness within the context of medical regulation.

Key Facts

Dr. Carter originally had an ISO imposed on him in June 2021 for 18 months. The ISO was extended by consent in December 2022 for 12 additional months. As the ISO was due to expire in December 2023 and the hearing of Dr. Carter’s fitness to practise was scheduled for March-April 2024, the GMC sought a further extension of five months to ensure public protection in the intervening period.

The Defendant did not appear or was represented in court. However, the court was satisfied he had been duly notified via email. Dr. Carter had previously communicated, through solicitors, no intention of returning to medical practice, suggesting a minimised personal impact from extending the ISO.

Protection of the public and public interest: Fordham J emphasized the necessity of extending the ISO for another five months until 29 May 2024, to protect public interest. The ISO ensures Dr. Carter, who faces concerns regarding fitness to practise on health grounds and conduct with the police, does not practise medicine until a full hearing determines his fitness.

Procedural fairness and right to a hearing: Despite Dr. Carter’s absence, the court confirmed he was notified correctly, satisfying the due process. Even though the Defendant had not responded to the application, the administrative process had to proceed to prevent the expiry of the ISO without reassessment, ensuring ongoing public protection.

Balance of prejudice: The judgment noted potential prejudice to Dr. Carter from the ISO continuation. However, it concluded such prejudice was outweighed by public interest imperatives, particularly since the Defendant had previously expressed a lack of interest in continuing practice.

Confidentiality and access to documents: The ruling addressed the routine inclusion of a direction that non-party applications to obtain documents are to be made with notice. The court reserved judgment on the necessity of such a practice, with Fordham J indicating that while not every case might justify it, the specific confidential information in this case warranted the direction.

Outcomes

The court was satisfied with the necessity, appropriateness, and proportionality of extending the ISO without adjournment. It granted an interim order extending the suspension for five months. Furthermore, it allowed for specific confidential information to be protected from public exposure by requiring notice for non-party applications for documents, although noting that this should not be a universal inclusion without further argument and justification.

Conclusion

The case of GMC v Dr. Carter reflects the judiciary’s commitment to maintaining public safety and upholding the integrity of the medical profession through interim regulatory measures. It also demonstrates the courts’ cautious approach to individual rights and acknowledges the need for maintaining confidentiality in sensitive matters. The court’s application of legal principles, such as the necessity of protection of the public and the balance of prejudice, combined with adherence to procedural rules, provide clear guidance for future interim order extensions and the sharing of sensitive information within the legal framework of medical regulation.

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