In our June 2013 issue of Pulse, we discussed the Victorian Court of Appeal’s decision in Colquhoun & Ors v Capitol Radiology Pty Limited1. The High Court has since refused special leave applications by the various plaintiffs, thereby maintaining the position that a Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) (Wrongs Act) Medical Panel has no common law or statutory-based obligation to give reasons for its decision.
A patient at a radiology clinic allegedly fell from a trolley during an examination in April 2008. He suffered head and leg injuries and required a hip replacement. More than 12 months later, the patient died after suffering a major stroke. His wife and three children brought claims against the clinic seeking damages for psychiatric injuries on the basis that its negligence caused the patient’s death.
A Medical Panel determined that the plaintiffs’ psychiatric impairments did not satisfy the relevant threshold. The plaintiffs sought judicial review of the determination on the grounds that the Panel had failed to adequately assess each of them in accordance with the relevant guide and failed to provide adequate reasons for its determinations.
Trial and Appeal
The Supreme Court held that an administrative tribunal, such as the Medical Panel, is not obliged to provide reasons when there is no specific statutory obligation for it to do so. Further, it held that the reasons provided by the Panel demonstrated both a discernable path of reasoning and an examination in accordance with the relevant guide.
On appeal, the Victorian Court of Appeal agreed with the Supreme Court that a Wrongs Act Medical Panel performs a medical, not a judicial, function and, as such, has neither a common law nor statutory obligation to give reasons.
Special leave application
The High Court rejected the plaintiffs’ applications for special leave2. In doing so, the Court made it clear that the Medical Panel was not performing a judicial function and was therefore not required to provide reasons. It indicated that as the Wrongs Act did not allow for the Medical Panel’s reasons to be appealed (as opposed to judicially reviewed), this was a strong indication that it was never the intention of the legislation to require the Medical Panel to provide reasons.
As the law stands, there is nothing preventing the Medical Panel from providing reasons. However, a disgruntled party will no longer be able to seek judicial review in relation to the inadequacy of those reasons.
As with the earlier Court of Appeal decision, the refusal of special leave will no doubt be welcomed by parties who receive favourable Medical Panel determinations. Especially if the determination may have previously been subject to judicial review due to the alleged inadequacy of reasons.
Despite this decision, the Medical Panel continues to provide reasons for its determinations and we do not expect there to be any change to its practice concerning the provision or format of reasons.