Doctors and Domestic Violence in GMC Cases
The GMC annually receives complaints from spouses or ex-spouses, or their friends and relatives, that a doctor has been violent at home or elsewhere toward their ex-partner or children. Each year a number of doctors will be convicted of the criminal offence of assault or harassment in a domestic violence context. However, a number of false complaints are also made to the GMC each year, out of spite or as a tool to obtain custody of children. In either situation, the GMC will investigate. Some cases are closed on paper and some progress.
The GMC will refer certain complaints it receives from complainants to the police, or wait until the police have investigated an alleged crime. Where there is no conviction or charge (or there has been an acquittal), the GMC might still take action against a doctor on the evidence that it has been obtained by the police or which can be obtained by the GMC. If domestic violence complainants are willing to testify then the GMC may proceed to a hearing.
A doctor who is found to have committed domestic violence clearly brings the profession into disrepute and also undermines confidence in the profession. In such circumstances a doctor might be given a formal GMC warning, which sits on their registration for a period of two years, or be given guidance at the closure (on paper) of the case. See more on this subject at: GMC Investigations.
Doctors might find that the allegations are referred to an interim orders tribunal (IOT), where the strength of the evidence will be examined and given appropriate weight, leading to a risk assessment as to whether or not a doctor should be suspended or given conditions of practise (restrictions)
Where a doctor is referred to a fitness to practise tribunal hearing, and while there is a possibility fo a warning being imposed, where domestic violence has been found proved, the greater likelihood is that a period of suspension will be imposed. In some instances, a doctor’s name might be erased from the register.
A doctor who is facing criminal allegations should ensure that they have a lawyer attend with them at any police-led interview that they are invited to. What the doctor says and doesn’t say can have an effect on the proceedings that follow, whether they be criminal or GMC proceedings. Where a doctor denies the allegations, they may need to defend their case in a criminal court, civil court, or at the GMC. A lawyer who can represent the doctor at such hearings should ideally be instructed.
Legal aid may be available to some doctors in criminal cases but their earning capacity and assets will often take them above the eligibility threshold. Most doctors prefer to instruct a lawyer on a private basis any way. Doctor are not entitled to legal aid in GMC proceedings, save on appeal, and again subject to eligibility criteria being met. Obtaining legal aid for appeals is now very difficult indeed.
The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) will also be consulted by employers and the police, where a doctor is said to have committed domestic violence in front of or nearby children, or been violent towards children. Social workers will generally be instructed to speak to the children, and other individuals, including the complainant and the alleged perpetrator. LADOs will liaise will employers and employers will consider excluding a doctor who is facing such allegations. For more information about LADO procedures, look up the relevant local municipal authority (council). The GMC will usually liaise with the LADO and vice versa, to meet their statutory obligations.
A doctor who admits or is found to have committed domestic violence will usually have to take significant steps of remediation, in order to reassure the GMC or a tribunal, that they are fit to practise.
It should be noted that harassment, controlling behaviour, and abuse does not necessarily have to lead to physical violence for the authorities to take action against a doctor. Further, even where the police decide not to proceed with a prosecution, the GMC can still take up the same concerns and bring misconduct proceedings. There are a number of cases where the GMC had brought proceedings of assault and non-consensual sex, among other things, which could also be classified as criminal conduct in the criminal justice jurisdiction.
A doctor should be careful what they say about allegations when speaking to the police or GMC, as admissions and denials could be used against them in a number of jurisdictions.
If you are a doctor facing allegations of domestic violence, call Doctors Defence Service on 0800 10 88 739 in strict confidence. Or use our online Contact Form.