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28 APR 2010

EXPERT EVIDENCE: Southall v General Medical Council [2010] EWCA Civ 407

(Court of Appeal; Waller, Dyson and Leveson LJJ; 20 April 2010)

Former paediatrician appealed against being found guilty of serious professional misconduct by General Medical Council (GMC) panel.

Mr Southall had maintained special files on children he was concerned about, containing original medical records not found elsewhere. He had conducted an interview with a parent about her possible murder of one of her children (apparent suicide) in an aggressive fashion, without a solicitor present but with a social worker involved in care proceedings concerning mother's remaining child. During the interview the paediatrician was very suspicious as to the suicide method, but his concerns were not within his expertise.

Mr Southall had previously been disciplined for sending an unsolicited letter to a consultant following a television programme that contributed to the wrongful imprisonment of a mother and as a result was not permitted to undertake child protection until he had the ban overturned.

The first appeal judge held serious professional misconduct was justified. The issue of the special files was serious, but not conduct justifying erasure of registration. The letter setting out real child protection concerns sent to the unknown consultant was not best practice, but not serious professional misconduct. However, the third allegation was most serious. Mr Southall had no evidence to support his suspicions as to the suicide. The social worker's presence was not explained and the mother was not told what the interview was about. The GMC panel had been entitled to reach conclusions adverse to the paediatrician on this issue. Mr Southall appealed.

Appeal allowed, although there is no general duty to give reasons, the reasons given by the GMC panel in this case were simply inadequate. Judge also recommended paediatricians tape interviews in future cases.  

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