The President of the High Court has clarified the jurisdiction of the High Court to hear confirmation applications by the Medical Council (the Council) under section 76 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 (the Act) in camera.
The Council is required to seek High Court confirmation in respect of certain sanctions imposed by the Council on a medical practitioner following an inquiry before the Fitness-to-Practise Committee of the Council (the FTPC) under the Act. These applications are heard in public before the President. Inquiries before the FTPC are usually held in public, however, the FTPC has jurisdiction to hear inquiries in private. Whether the High Court has similar jurisdiction to hear a confirmation application in private, and how such applications should be made, was clarified in Medical Council v TM  IEHC 548 (TM) and Medical Council v Anonymous  IEHC 109 (Anonymous)
In TM, the President held that there is no express or implied power contained in the Act to hold a confirmation application in camera. However, the President noted that, in Gilchrist and Rogers v Sunday Newspapers Ltd  IESC 18 (Gilchrist) the Supreme Court held that the Courts retained a common law power, to be exercised sparingly and with due regard to constitutional values, to direct that a hearing be held in camera in certain limited circumstances. Accordingly, the President held that there was a jurisdiction to hold confirmation hearings in camera.
In Anonymous, the Court had to consider another application for an in camera hearing of a confirmation application. The Court, in considering Gilchrist and its previous decision in TM, held that the application in this case did not meet the high threshold required for an in camera hearing. The President noted that the basis of the application was to protect the doctor subject to the sanction and to protect the identity of the patients in question, who were not aware of the inquiry. The doctor was recovering from addiction and this rehabilitation would be damaged if the matter was publicised. The President concluded that, whilst anonymity for both the doctor and the patients was appropriate, an in camera hearing was not appropriate or necessary. The President held that orders prohibiting the publication of anything that might identify the doctor and the patients involved would be sufficient to protect the interests of both but that the hearing would proceed in public.
The above judgments clarify there is a common law power to hold a confirmation hearing in camera. This may be of assistance to both registrants and to regulators that have similar statutory provisions in respect of confirmation applications.
For more information in relation to the above please contact Stephen McLoughlin.