FFW wins landmark GMC appeal

Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) and the General Medical Council (GMC) have successfully fought for the regulator’s right to discipline expert witnesses after a Court of Appeal case.

FFW partner Tom Rider was instructed by the GMC to bring the appeal against a February 2006 ruling of Mr Justice Collins, in which the judge decided that expert witnesses should be immune from disciplinary action.

Collins J was deciding the claim brought by paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow, who was struck off by the GMC after giving expert evidence in the 1999 trial of Sally Clark, accused of murdering two of her babies. In 2003 Clark’s conviction was overturned.

This morning (26 October) the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, and Lord Justices Auld and Thorpe overturned Collins J’s decision. They decided that there should not be immunity from disciplinary action, but also said that Sir Roy was not guilty of serious professional misconduct and should not have been struck off.

Clarke MR said: “It seems to me that the solution to particular problems in particular professions must be reached by discussion and, if appropriate, rule change, not by what to my mind would be an unprincipled extension of the common law immunity from civil suit.”

In a statement GMC chief executive Findlay Scott said: “We are very pleased with today’s decision that there is no immunity from action by the GMC and other regulators. The Court of Appeal has upheld our view that the GMC is free to act to protect the public when a doctor has fallen significantly below acceptable standards. This is a very important point of law.”

Rider instructed Henderson Chambers’ Roger Henderson QC for the GMC.

Sir Roy was represented by Hempsons, instructing Nicola Davies QC of 3 Serjeant’s Inn.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, intervened in support of the GMC and appeared before the court supported by 4 Stone Buildings’ Jonathan Crow, who has taken silk since the hearing.