Ahmad Zia v General Medical Council (2011)

CA (CivDiv) 18 May 2011

The Court of Appeal has held that the Registrar of the General Medical Council has the power to refer allegations made against a doctor to the Council's Fitness to Practise Panel without the matter first being considered by the Council's case examiners.

The Registrar referred Dr Zia for a performance assessment following receipt of a complaint from the hospital trust which employed him. The complaint concerned his performance and competence. The referral was made under GMC (Fitness to Practise) Rules Order of Council 2004, rule 7(3) (which gives the Registrar the power to direct a performance or health assessment of a practitioner).

Dr Zia refused to undergo the assessment, as he said that the Registrar had the power to direct an assessment only if the matter had first been referred to the case examiners. Following Dr Zia's refusal, the Registrar referred him to the Fitness to Practise Panel under rule 7(6) of the 2004 Rules (which gives the Registrar the power to refer allegations to the Panel where a practitioner has failed to submit to an assessment).

The Panel considered the allegations of misconduct and deficient professional performance and found them proved. It imposed a suspension of eight months.

Dr Zia appealed to the High Court. It was part of Dr Zia's case that the Panel did not have jurisdiction to hear the case against him because the Registrar could only refer allegations to it if the matter had been first referred to the case examiners in line with rule 4(2) of the 2004 Rules.

Dr Zia's appeal succeeded, and the Court held that the Registrar could not refer allegations directly to the Fitness to Practise Panel without having first referred the matter to the case examiners. It was held that the purpose of the Rules was to safeguard doctors who were the subject of allegations. The suspension imposed by the Panel was quashed.

The GMC appealed against the decision of the High Court. The appeal succeeded, the Court of Appeal ruling that the judge below had erred in finding that there was an absolute requirement that all cases must always be considered by the case examiners. It was further held that:

  • the Registrar had the power to carry out his own investigation before referring a matter to the case examiners;
  • the power to direct a performance assessment was not confined to cases that had already been referred to the case examiners;
  • the power to refer a practitioner to the Fitness to Practise Panel for failure to submit to an assessment was necessary in order to prevent practitioners frustrating an investigation by refusing to submit to an assessment.

The Court of Appeal reinstated the suspension which the Panel had imposed and remitted Dr Zia's substantive grounds for appeal for full consideration.