This is a case in which the plaintiff, Dr. Van Eeden, was charged and acquitted in October 2014 with importing medicines without a licence into the State. In September 2016 the Medical Council proposed to open an inquiry before the Fitness to Practice Committee regarding, inter alia, whether he had prescribed an unauthorised medicine to a patient in his GP practice.
Dr. Van Eeden claimed that he is being subject to disciplinary proceedings by his professional body in relation to matters for which he was acquitted by the District Court in October 2014 and so the disciplinary proceedings should not go ahead.
He also claimed that the disciplinary proceedings amount to a breach of the equality provisions in the Constitution since a non-professional in his position e.g. a courier, waiter, tradesman etc., who had been acquitted of the charges as he was, would be able to return to work without any restriction or any risk of any restriction on his right to do so. Dr. Van Eeden claims that this difference of treatment between him as a doctor and a non-professional, amounts to unlawful discrimination.
Mr. Justice Twomey turned down the appeal on both grounds.
Twomey J commented that for the res judicata claim by the plaintiff against the Medical Council to be successful, it is clear that the Medical Council must be pursuing Dr. Van Eeden for the same offences for which he was acquitted by the District Court.
He therefore concluded that:
“…there is in fact no overlap between the charges in the District Court of which Dr. Van Eeden was acquitted and the matters which are the subject of the disciplinary proceedings, and so there is no reason for the inquiry not to proceed on the principle that it had been previously decided ( res judicata).”
On the second ground of appeal Twomey J commented:
“…even if the matter had been previously decided by the District Court, this Court also concludes that, not only is a difference in treatment between the plaintiff as a doctor and a person who is not a doctor, justified in the public interest, but such a difference in treatment is required to ensure that the public can have trust in the medical profession generally and doctors individually.