Doctors Accused but Unconvicted Keep Pensions

Tim Locke

January 20, 2020

The concept of being innocent until proven guilty has been restored for doctors accused of crimes who faced losing their pensions before being convicted.

The pension suspension sanction for doctors and other health professionals charged with certain crimes was introduced in England and Wales in April 2019.

This law change was challenged by the British Medical Association (BMA) and a High Court judge has now overturned it.

The High Court ruled that the regulations breached Article 6 (right to a fair trial), Article 14 (protection from discrimination) and Article 1, Protocol 1 (right to peaceful enjoyment of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). They also breached the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under the Equality Act (in failing to have regard to the equality implications of the changes).

Fundamental Principle

The BMA said the judge, the Honourable Mrs Justice Andrews pointed out that the Government had drawn no distinction between someone charged with a crime and someone convicted of a crime despite the fundamental principle in law being that 'every defendant to a criminal charge, however serious, and however compelling the evidence against him may appear, is presumed innocent until proved guilty to the criminal standard'.

In a statement, BMA Council Chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said the ruling was "a victory for our members and for all NHS professionals across England and Wales who could have been unlawfully deprived of their pensions benefits had these rules remained in place.

"We could not allow the Government to simply disregard the fundamental principle that a person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. These rules assume guilt from the outset with little regard for the impact on a doctor’s well-being, career or personal life.

"From the evidence presented it is clear the Government made no assessment, or worse just disregarded, the potential effect this rule change would have on those who are retired and already drawing on their pensions and those who are older, ill or disabled."

He said he was glad "that these regulations, which should never had been approved in the first place, will now be struck from the statute book".

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