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Meadow v General Medical Council [2006] EWHC 146 (Admin)

Appeal against disciplinary ruling allowed on the basis of immunity from suit.

Queen's Bench Division: Collins J (17 February 2006)

Summary
Appeal against disciplinary ruling allowed on the basis of immunity from suit.

Background
This case concerned Professor Sir Roy Meadow, the eminent paediatrician, and his evidence in the case of Sally Clark, who was convicted of the murder of her two children. Following the case, Sally Clark's father made a complaint against Professor Meadow to the General Medical Council (GMC), alleging that the evidence that he had given to the criminal courts had been badly flawed, particularly in the misuse of statistics, and so he deserved to be found guilty of serious professional misconduct and dealt with accordingly.

The Fitness to Practise Panel (FPP) of the GMC found serious professional misconduct to be proved, and ordered Professor Meadow's name to be erased from the register. Professor Meadow appealed both against the finding of serious professional misconduct and the sanction of erasure.

The judge considered first a point which was not taken either before the FPP or in the grounds of appeal, namely the immunity from suit of a witness in respect of evidence given in a court of law. While he observed that all the authorities has concerned immunity from suit, he could see no reason why the immunity should not apply to disciplinary proceedings; and he had clear evidence before him that the possibility of disciplinary proceedings based on a complaint by someone affected by the evidence given would have a serious deterrent effect.

The judge then continued to review the allegations before the FPP which led to its finding of serious professional misconduct.

Judgment
Held, allowing the appeal on all grounds, that the complaint to the FPP should never have been pursued, since it was based on Professor Meadow's evidence in court, and he had immunity; further, even if the FPP was entitled to consider the complaint, its conclusion was not justified by the evidence before it.

On the matter of granting an immunity which had not hitherto been explicitly recognised, the judge considered that the immunity did not need to be absolute: following the principles set out in the House of Lords case of Darker v Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police [2001] 1 AC 435, there was no reason why the judge before whom an expert gave evidence (or the Court of Appeal where appropriate) should not refer his conduct to the relevant disciplinary body if satisfied that his conduct had fallen so far below what was expected of him as to merit disciplinary action. In relation to the duties of an expert witness to the court, the judge referred to the helpful list set out in the judgment of Cresswell J in The Ikarian Reefer [1993] 2 Lloyd's Rep 68.

On the merits of the FPP decision, the judge considered that the only mistake made by Professor Meadow was to misunderstand and misinterpret the statistics; while it may have been proper to criticise him for not disclosing his lack of expertise, it did not justify a finding of serious professional misconduct. It was submitted that, since Professor Meadow had acted in good faith and there was no evidence of calculated or wilful failure to use his best endeavours, there could not be a finding of serious professional misconduct; however, the judge acknowledged that such a finding could be made in the absence of bad faith or recklessness, but only in a very rare case would it be justified.

Read the full text of the judgment here