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Decision date: 14 May 2012
A registrant’s motive (or lack of one) should be considered for allegations of dishonesty.
A General Medical Council Committee were wrong to find that a doctor had deliberately and dishonestly removed a declaration of truth from timesheets provided to an agency. There would be no motive for this.
The doctor faced three charges of dishonest misconduct in that whilst employed as a locum anaesthetist he failed to pay accommodation costs, over claimed for hours worked and removed a declaration of truth stating that the information given on the form was correct and complete. The Panel dismissed the first two allegations but found the third on the basis that in altering the timesheets he had acted deceitfully and led the agency to assume the forms were as required.
Foskett J, considered the line of cases stating a Panel at first instance is in the best position to assess the reliability of witnesses and evidence before it and that a higher Court would be very slow to interfere with such a decision. It does however have a duty to consider all material before it on appeal to discharge its own responsibility and can take a different view where it does not feel disadvantaged at not having heard the witnesses and where issues can be addressed with little emphasis on direct assessment of the evidence.
It concluded that there was no logic to the Panel’s finding. Removing the declaration could not possibly have led the agency to believe the content was ‘as required’. Further, if the declaration was on every other form submitted, then this doctor’s forms must have had an obvious “gaping hole”. Such an omission was not spotted by the agency which suggested that, as was the doctor’s case, not all the forms had this declaration on as standard.
To remove the declaration to hide the over claiming of hours, as the case was put, was unlikely to do anything other than arouse suspicion. If the doctor’s hours were correct, there would be no motive for removing the decision. There would therefore not be any reason for falsifying the timesheets. The Panel had not considered the motive the doctor may have for deleting the declaration.
The starting point with regard to dishonesty is of course that a registrant of good character is most unlikely to act dishonestly. Panels must take care when considering an allegation as serious as dishonesty. They should put their minds to the registrant’s motive and indeed whether there is one and should be careful to record this in their decision. Those representing regulatory bodies and registrants will ensure for different reasons that this is thoroughly addressed at the hearing.
On a separate issue, Foskett J reiterated throughout his decision that a legal assessor should consider the advice they are going to give with both parties prior to addressing the Panel to ensure they are aware of all issues and that these are addressed fairly. This seems a sensible approach.
The Court reiterates the gravity of an allegation of dishonesty for a professional, and the need for detailed and measured consideration before it is found proved. The motive for any dishonesty is patently a relevant matter that the Panel must consider.
By Nicola Hill
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