Edinburgh doctor suspended for attending New IRA meeting loses appeal against extension of suspension

Edinburgh doctor suspended for attending New IRA meeting loses appeal against extension of suspension

A doctor who had the suspension of his registration extended while awaiting trial for offences under anti-terrorism legislation has lost an appeal against a lord ordinary’s decision to approve that extension.

Reclaimer IB, who was said to be facing criminal proceedings that would likely not conclude within the next one to two years, argued that the court had mischaracterised the nature of his conduct as relating to the charges against him. His position was that he had been invited to address a group of New IRA members on the topic of internationalism and had not participated in any terrorist activity.

The appeal was heard by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, together with Lord Tyre and Lord Boyd of Duncansby. The reclaimer appeared as a party litigant while the respondent was represented by Lindsay KC and Byrne KC.

Public would be surprised

In August 2020 the reclaimer was arrested in Heathrow Airport following a surveillance operation targeting terrorist activities and charged with offences under sections 5 and 12(3) of the Terrorism Act 2000. The first of these charges carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and the second of 14 years’ imprisonment. He appeared by video link at Belfast Magistrates’ Court and was later released on bail to his home in Edinburgh and subjected to curfew.

On 26 October 2020 an Interim Orders Tribunal of the GMC made an order for suspension of his registration for a period of 18 months, which was alter extended by the Court of Session until 25 April 2023. The GMC subsequently applied for a further extension to 25 April 2024, which was granted by the court.

The lord ordinary reasoned that a reasonable member of the public would be surprised and offended to learn that the reclaimer had been permitted to practise whilst under investigation and the subject of terrorism-related criminal proceedings. He declined to consider arguments that the reclaimer was a victim of entrapment by the British state and that the charges faced were not extremely serious ones.

It was acknowledged that the suspension was causing the reclaimer hardship, as he was living on state benefits and due to his age might have difficulty in resuming his career after a lengthy suspension. However, the Lord Ordinary held that the length of the suspension had not yet reached the stage where it was disproportionate for it to continue.

The reclaimer argued that the court’s characterisation of the charges as being of the most serious kind had been without foundation. When it was taken into account that the reclaimer had not attended two New IRA meetings to which the police attached particular importance and the circumstances in which he attended another meetings, it was clear the allegations did not include any word, action, intention, or engagement in issues relating to terrorism.

Damage to confidence

Lord Boyd of Duncansby, delivering the opinion of the court, said of the seriousness of the charges: “The reclaimer’s argument invites the court to assess the seriousness of the charges solely on the basis of the factual narrative in the PSNI letter. In our view that would be an unwise approach to adopt. It would amount to the court reaching a view on the substance of the case against the reclaimer based upon an assumption that the letter sets out the entirety of that case. Such an assumption would be wholly unfounded.”

He continued: “Any attempt by the court in this case to look behind the charges would amount in effect to an assessment of the strength of the case against the reclaimer, which is no more part of the function of this court than assessment of its veracity. For these reasons we reject the reclaimer’s contention that the Lord Ordinary erred in law in his characterisation of the charges as being of the most serious kind; for our part we entirely agree with it.”

Assessing whether the continued suspension was proportionate, Lord Boyd said: “In our opinion, if the reclaimer is subsequently convicted of the offences which he presently faces, the public would be concerned to know that during his time on bail he had been allowed to continue practice as a medical practitioner. Involvement in terrorism is the very antithesis of what is expected of a doctor, whose professional obligation, is to protect and save lives.”

He concluded: “The public would of course know that the reclaimer enjoyed the presumption of innocence but they might balance that with the knowledge that not only had prosecution lawyers considered that there was a sufficiency of evidence but that had been tested in committal proceedings before a District Judge. In our opinion the potential damage to public confidence in the reputation of the profession would be substantial.”

The reclaiming motion was therefore refused.

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