What to expect if requested to give witness evidence at a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service hearing
Witnesses of fact are a key part of hearings held by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).
A witness who is clear in their view, whose evidence accords with the records and is consistent with the recollections of other witnesses will be persuasive. Such a witness will impact the outcome of a hearing. A hearing which determines whether, or not, a doctor is fit to practise medicine. Here, we consider the process and what is expected of a witness asked to be involved in a MPTS hearing.
The role of the MPTS
The MPTS runs hearings that make independent decisions about whether doctors are fit to practise medicine.
As explained on its website, the MPTS is a statutory committee of the GMC, accountable to the GMC Council and the UK Parliament. Independent in their decision making and operating separately from the investigatory role of the GMC.
MPTS tribunals can restrict or remove a doctor’s right to practise medicine in the UK. Therefore, the key factor for any witness to consider, when called to give evidence before the MPTS, is – what is the tribunal trying to ascertain?
The focus of the tribunal may be whether restrictions should be put on a medical practitioner or whether a doctor’s fitness to practice is impaired such that suspension or erasure from the medical register is warranted. The aim being to protect the public.
Matters are referred to the MPTS by the GMC and the role of the MPTS is to make a decision about a clinician’s fitness to practise, applying the civil standard of proof (the balance of probabilities).
Allegations leading to referral to an MPTS hearing will fall within one of the following categories (summarised from the GMC website): misconduct, deficient professional performance, conviction or caution, adverse physical or mental health, not having the necessary knowledge of the English language or further referral to a determination by another regulatory body.
What to expect at the hearing
A hearing may be held in person or remotely and will usually be held in public, with some exceptions (i.e. if the hearing is about private matters such as a clinician’s health).
Any witness called would be expected to assist the MPTS panel. Both the clinician and the GMC have the opportunity to call witnesses and make submissions. Both the clinician and the GMC are entitled to legal representation at the hearing who may want to ask questions of the witnesses.
The MPTS panel would be made up of three individuals: one medically qualified, one legally qualified and one lay panel member.
The MPTS panel make the decision as to the appropriate sanction or restriction for the clinician. This decision follows a period of consideration following the hearing.
Given hearings are public, it is possible for the press to be present.
Considerations for a witness
Witnesses are expected to answer questions to the best of their ability based on their recollection. It being critical that the witness tells the truth and accordingly witnesses are required to swear or give a civil affirmation.
The witness would have previously provided a witness statement, and this would be within the bundle for the hearing. It may be that the witness statement stands as ‘evidence in chief’ and the witness would be attending simply to affirm the above so that the above evidence is adopted into the tribunal record.
It may be that the GMC representative has questions in relation to witness evidence so as to seek clarification or highlight particular elements in support of the case against the clinician. Alternatively, representatives for the clinician may wish to cross-examine the witness in an attempt to persuade the MPTS panel that the evidential basis for a sanction is not met or to undermine the GMC’s case against the clinician.
Finally, it is open to the MPTS Panel to ask questions of the witness.
Evidence given must be honest and, ideally, should be clear and succinct. Witnesses should focus on answering the question that is being asked and try not to pre-empt follow-up questions.
If the witness would be assisted by seeing a particular document, then the witness should ask to see the relevant information. This would include the witness’s own witness statement which the witness should feel free to have to hand whilst giving evidence.
In the event that a witness cannot answer a question then the witness should feel free to make that clear to the tribunal or to ask the panel/legal representative for further clarification of the question, if that would assist.
If the witness is asked to review a document during the hearing, the witness should take the time to review the document in detail before answering any questions so as to avoid saying something potentially misleading or inaccurate.
Having provided witness evidence a witness is then released and therefore, off oath, and free to go.
Outcome of the hearing
Various outcomes are possible further to the hearing – they are not designed to be punitive, rather to protect the public. The outcomes include:
- No further action.
- Undertakings agreed between the GMC and the clinician (for instance a clinician could voluntarily agree to restrict their own practice and thus avoid one of the three sanctions below).
- Specified conditions for up to three years.
- Suspension from practising for up to one year.
- Erasure of a clinician’s name from the medical register.
MPTS decisions are published on the MPTS website within 28 days of the hearing concluding.