Applying for a Postponement of a MPTS / GMC Hearing

GMC MPTS PostponementsMPTS / GMC Postponements or Adjournments

A doctor might need to apply for a postponement or adjournment of a hearing in a number of different circumstances: bereavement; a sudden home emergency; a work matter that cannot be avoided without serious prejudice, or ill-health.

Any application for postponement or adjournment should be made promptly and be supported by evidence. The MPTS has decision-makers (if the application is made in advance) who will look at the application and make a decision on whether to postpone or not. A postponement or adjournment application if unsuccessful can also be renewed before the MPT or IOT tribunal that is tasked with hearing the matter.

Each MPTS tribunal, drawn at random from a pool of trained doctors and lay people, will have differing views as to whether the evidence is sufficient to justify a postponement. In a pluralist society, the supervising appeal courts will not readily interfere with the judgment of a MPTS panel unless the decision to proceed in absence was not justified in all of the circumstances. The threshold test for appeals to be successful is a high one and very few appellants succeed.

Postponements and adjournments can cause delay and inconvenience witnesses, and so they are usually only granted as a last resort. They will not be granted for trivial reasons or where the evidence does not back up what the applicant is saying.

If a postponement is required because a party has not produced evidence, the whole history and timetable will be scrutinised for the reasonableness of the conduct of the parties. There are costs risks where a party causes a postponement due to shabby preparation.

Attending a GMC/MPTS hearing is stressful for any doctor. Some doctors feel that they cannot face the hearing because of the stress that they are experiencing. Stress in itself will be unlikely to lead to the fitness to practise case being postponed. A doctor who does not attend a hearing risks an adverse hearing outcome that would not be easy to correct on appeal. Panels will generally proceed in the absence of a doctor who does not attend a hearing, who has also failed to provide sufficient evidence that they are unfit or unable to attend and participate. A doctor should not bank on an application being successful.

Some doctors facing GMC proceedings obtain medical evidence that is relied upon to show the MPTS tribunal that they are unwell. But even that evidence may be dismissed by the tribunal as being insufficient. A sick note from a doctor’s GP may not be enough if it merely states that the doctor is unwell and will be unwell for 7 days.

A doctor who is facing GMC proceedings should ensure that their postponement / adjournment application is well-evidenced. They should write a statement as to why they cannot attend. They should provide detailed supporting evidence from a number of sources as well.

There is a significant risk that an application for an adjourment / postponement will be unsuccessful. If the application is unsuccessful, the doctor should attend the hearing to present their case.

Where a case is heard in the absence of a doctor, the MPTS panel may well come to adverse conclusions that affect the doctor’s ability to practice. It is not unusual for a fitness to practise tribunal to proceed through each of the stages of a hearing. Doctors may later learn that they have been struck off or suspended, having not had the opportunity to make representations.

Applying for a postponement or adjournment on health grounds

If the postponement is being sought on medical grounds, as opposed to the defence case not being ready or there being some abuse of process ground for the application, the doctor will need to obtain good evidence from their GP and possibly from an expert within the clinical speciality. Each case turns on its own facts.

Medical evidence needs to be sufficiently detailed. Here is some guidance in the case of General Medical Council v Hayat [2018] EWCA Civ 2796 (13 December 2018) which sets out the tests for the tribunals and the courts, when considering whether to proceed in the absence of the doctor. See in particular paragraphs 32 to 43 of that judgment, which emphasise the need for detailed evidence that a doctor cannot participate in the hearing (even with long breaks and reasonable adjustments being made), or cannot give instructions to their lawyer. There are other cases that give further guidance on the same theme, some of which are mentioned in the above case, and some in the cases below.

A judge considering a recent appeal against the MPTS IOT’s refusal to adjourn a case held that a tribunal as a ‘generous discretion’ as to whether to adjourn, which appears to mean that adjournments should seldom be granted except on very strong grounds. When one considers the delay that might be caused, and the costs to the public purse of abandoning set dates, balancing the public interest (to have cases determined within a reasonable time) against the interests of the doctor to have a fair trial, one can see the arguments that will be deployed against a doctor.

For legal advice on evidence needed for adjournment applications, and legal representation in adjournment applications, contact us via our Contact Form, or call us on 0800 10 88 739.

Other case law on medical evidence needed for an adjournment or postponement:

In Levy v Ellis-Carr [2012] EWHC 63 it was held that, where a tribunal is considering an adjournment application, the applicant’s medical evidence must be of good quality. The conduct of the applicant over time can also be taken into consideration:-

“36. Can the Appellant demonstrate on this appeal that he had good reason not to attend the hearing (as he would have to do under CPR 39.5)? In my judgment he cannot. The Appellant was evidently able to think about the case on 24 May 2011 (because he went to a doctor and asked for a letter that he could use in the case, plainly to be deployed in the event that an adjournment was not granted): if he could do that then he could come to Court, as his wife did. He has made no application to adduce in evidence that letter (and so has not placed before the court any of the factual material necessary to demonstrate that a medical report could not with reasonable diligence have been obtained before the hearing before the Registrar). But I will consider that additional evidence. In my judgment it falls far short of the medical evidence required to demonstrate that the party is unable to attend a hearing and participate in the trial. Such evidence should identify the medical attendant and give details of his familiarity with the party’s medical condition (detailing all recent consultations), should identify with particularity what the patient’s medical condition is and the features of that condition which (in the medical attendant’s opinion) prevent participation in the trial process, should provide a reasoned prognosis and should give the court some confidence that what is being expressed is an independent opinion after a proper examination. It is being tendered as expert evidence. The court can then consider what weight to attach to that opinion, and what arrangements might be made (short of an adjournment) to accommodate a party’s difficulties. No judge is bound to accept expert evidence: even a proper medical report falls to be considered simply as part of the material as a whole (including the previous conduct of the case). The letter on which the Appellant relies is wholly inadequate.

37. The Appellant complains that the failure to grant the adjournment is a breach of his human rights. The complaint is misconceived. The Appellant’s right to a fair trial means that he must have a reasonable opportunity to put his case. He had that right on 9 February 2011 (but asked the Court to postpone it). He was urged to exercise that right by the trustee’s solicitors on 23rd May 2011: but he and his legal representatives chose not to avail themselves of it.

38. This ground of appeal fails.” (January 2012)

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Appeal Cases Where Health Grounds Were Rejected

In Nazari v Solicitors Regulation Authority [2022] EWHC 1574 (Admin) the quality of evidence provided to the SRA was insufficient to justify an adjournment. See paras 41 to 47 on the medical issues, and paras 29 to 40 for a summary of case law on adjournments and the evidence on which the solicitor had sought to rely to justify an adjournment. The case had concerned misuse of a blue badge for parking when a car is being used by a disable person. (June 2022)

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A Doctor’s Stress and Postponements

A postponed hearing can be just as stressful as the one being postponed: Holder v NMC [2017] EWHC 647 (Admin) at [16]-[18]; and Rehman v Bar Standards Board [2016] EWHC 1229 (Admin) at [49]-[58].

If you would like assistance with making an application for postponement or adjournment of a GMC / MPTS hearing, give us a call in strict confidence on 0800 10 88 739

Doctors Defence Service