A doctor, who brought a number of legal challenges against the GMC, has lost their case in the High Court.

In Onwude v General Medical Council [2023] EWHC 2807 (Admin) (09 November 2023), the High Court heard three separate, but connected, claims:

a. The doctor’s claim against the GMC issued on 24 May 2023 in respect of the order made by the Interim Orders Tribunal (“the IOT”) on 3 February 2023 that the doctor’s registration on the Medical Register would remain suspended until the end of 9 November 2023;

b. The GMC’s application dated 25 September 2023 for an extended civil restraint order (“extended CRO”) in relation to the various matters raised in Dr Onwude’s claim; and

c. The GMC’s application for the court to extend the interim order made by the IOT in respect of Dr Onwude’s suspension for a further 12 months.

The legal proceedings started as a result of services provided to two patients who were friends of his at the time.  The relationship broke down and the doctor consequently issued the patients with invoices for his services and in turn those two patients complained to the GMC, alleging dishonesty.

The resulting MPT hearing resulted in the doctor’s erasure.  The doctor initially failed a judicial review of the decision, but was successful in an appeal against the erasure.  The case was remitted back to the MPTS for re-consideration.

In the meantime, the doctor brought a race discrimination claim in the employment tribunal against the CEO of the GMC, the investigation manager of the GMC and the GMC itself, but these were declared to be totally without merit and thrown out.  Subsequent judicial review applications were also thrown out.

The MPT decided (in the proceedings remitted by Collins J) to issue the doctor with a warning. The doctor applied for Judicial Review of that decision, but permission was denied.

An important aspect of this case revolves around the circumstances relating to the doctor’s revalidation of his licence to practice in 2020. The judgement states:

“He had been given notice of the need to submit an annual return as he did not have a responsible officer or an approved suitable person. He failed to be revalidated in 2021, despite correspondence being sent to him notifying him that he needed to revalidate. The Assistant Registrar decided, on 3 June 2021, to withdraw Dr Onwude’s licence to practice. There was significant correspondence between Dr Onwude and the GMC after he was notified of the decision to withdraw his license to practice. Dr Onwude continued to insist that he had revalidated.

“… two members of the public reported to the GMC that Dr Onwude was practising without a licence. The GMC investigated and the reports produced as a result of those investigations were passed to Norfolk and Suffolk police who investigated the matters and have brought charges against him. Dr Onwude has pleaded not guilty to those charges and the trial has been set on 26 March 2024 at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court. Dr Onwude has threatened to bring litigation against one of the people who reported him.”

On 10 August 2022, the MPT made an interim order suspending Dr Onwude’s registration. On 3 February 2023, the MPT continued that order for a further six months until the end of 9 November 2023. 

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Her Honour Judge Kelly noted in her judgement that the doctor and the GMC “are fundamentally disagreed as to the legal basis for decisions taken by the Registrar and the IOT.”  The judgement continued, referring to the doctor’s legal argument,:

… the GMC cannot lawfully or legally rely on those Regulations [GMC Revalidation Regulations] in order to withdraw his license to practice because those regulations were not endorsed by a Monarch. In other words, whilst he accepts that primary legislation (that is statutes) are law, and as such can be followed and applied, secondary legislation (such as the Regulations relied upon by the GMC and the IOT) cannot be applied as law.”

The Doctor therefore “asserted that the order continuing the suspension of his license to practice made by the IOT was illegal and unlawful.”  It is relevant to say that the GMC eventually accepted that the doctor had revalidated in 2020, therefore leaving the only substantive issue the IOT appeal.

In summary, Her Honour Judge Kelly however disagreed with the doctor’s argument, noting that the doctor:

“…made no substantive submissions attacking the reasoning or procedure of the IOT when making its decision to extend the suspension of his license to practice. In any event, considering the matter afresh and applying the principles governing consideration of the decision of the IOT, I am entirely satisfied that a further suspension of the licence to practice of Dr Onwude was justified on the balance of probabilities.

“I do not accept that there is in reality any prejudice to Dr Onwude if the interim order is continued. The interim order is based upon the decision of the Assistant Registrar to withdraw Dr Onwude’s licence to practice and that decision has not been lawfully challenged. Dr Onwude should not, in those circumstances, be practising in any event.”

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