Byrne v General Medical Council [2021] EWHC 2237 (Admin) (10 August 2021)

A doctor erased for misconduct linked to sexual misconduct has lost his appeal against a MPTS Striking Off Order.

Background

Dr Timothy Paul Byrne (“the Appellant”) is a consultant psychiatrist. Patient A is a woman aged 53 and has been treated by mental health services since she was 16. Patient A was a patient of the Appellant between 2007 and 2016. In late 2016 Patient A reported to another therapist that she had had an inappropriate relationship with the Appellant between 2011 and 2013.

She made allegations of physical and emotional intimacy, including kissing, touching and more serious sexual acts in 2012. These complaints were reported by the other therapist to the local NHS authority. There was a local investigation, culminating in a warning. The matter was then referred to the GMC who brought proceedings before the Tribunal. After a hearing in July 2019, in March 2020 the Tribunal found a number of allegations of fact proved and went on to find that those findings of fact amounted to misconduct and impairment of fitness to practise.

On 30 July 2020 the Tribunal imposed the sanction of erasure.

The Grounds of Appeal

Dr Byrne appealed the MTPS decision on the following grounds:

  1. The Tribunal’s decision on the facts in relation to each of were wrong and/or irrational;
  2. The determination on impairment and sanction of erasure were wrong, in so far as they were based on the erroneous findings of facts; and
  3. The Decision was unjust and/or unfair due to serious procedural irregularity arising from previous adjournments.

Dr Byrne argued that “the case was of sufficient complexity and importance to warrant heightened examination of the facts and a fully reasoned decision, including an explanation of why his evidence had been disbelieved”.  Mr Justice Morris found some sympathy with this argument but concluded that “I am satisfied that there was more than sufficient evidence before the Tribunal upon which it was justified in finding each of these three allegations proven”.

Morris J concluded the judgement noting that

“Essentially this case turned upon the Tribunal choosing between the oral evidence of Patient and that of the Appellant. Morris J said “there were certain particular features relevant to the Tribunal’s assessment of their credibility”. 

These were:

  1. save in relation to one specific allegation, this is not a case where there were competing accounts of what had occurred;
  2. Patient A’s sexual interest was not a reason to disbelieve her evidence;
  3. where the case turns upon which oral account to accept, the approach of first considering documentary evidence before assessing the credibility of a witness’s oral account has less significance; and
  4. any delay and the piecemeal fashion of Patient’s reporting of the matters can be properly explained by her mental state, her sense of shame and difficulties in talking about such sensitive matters.

Consequently, Morris J concluded by saying “Whilst I have concluded that certain, limited, findings of fact cannot stand, … I conclude that the Decision (i.e. of erasure) was neither wrong on the facts nor unjust because of any serious procedural or other irregularity.”

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