Breach of undertakings leads to 12 month suspension for doctor

This is another salutary lesson against professionals representing themselves. An argument that the disciplinary tribunal had not accorded procedural fairness by failing to warn in advance of the possibility of a suspension was given short shrift.

And the courts’ reticence to disturb the findings of specialist professional tribunals, even when exercising appellate jurisdiction under a statute providing for appeals from such tribunals, was expressly articulated in Papps v Medical Board of South Australia [2006] SASC 234. That was an unsuccessful appeal by the doctor to the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australian from an unsuccessful appeal by him to a single Supreme Court judge from the decision of the Medical Practitioners Professional Conduct Tribunal suspending his right to practice for 12 months as a result of a miscellany of allegations, including a breach of practice management undertakings he had made to the Medical Board of South Australia. Another of the allegations was overenthusiasm as a medico-legal consultant:

“The practitioner used inappropriate public advertising promoting a service outside the scope of medical practice. The advertisement stated that the practitioner could help patients ‘win’ personal injury compensation cases and that he could refer patients to ‘expert lawyers to maximise claims’.”

Gray J, with whom the other judges agreed, said:

“[36] The decision under appeal is that of a specialist tribunal and involves consideration of matters of professional judgment about the appropriate conduct of the practice of medicine. As such, this Court should be careful not to inter-vene to substitute its own view unless a clear error in the Tribunal’s decision can be demonstrated.

[37] In T v Medical Board of South Australia (1992) 58 SASR 382 at 407-408 Olsson J reiterated difficulties associated with reviewing a decision of a specialist tribunal:

‘[W]hilst the appellate court must make its own independent assessment of the impact of the evidentiary material, it must nonethe-less bear firmly in mind the permanent position of disadvantage in which it stands — as against the primary Tribunal — on questions of credibility. It should only be disposed to interfere with such findings where it is abundantly satisfied that the conclusion reached was plainly inappropriate.’

These observations have application to both the appeal before a single judge and to this Court.”

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