Doctors, Child Pornography, and the GMC – Legal Advice for Doctors
Each year the GMC receives a number of complaints (around 5 to 8 referrals annually) from UK police who have raided doctors’ homes on suspicion that the doctor has been downloading from the internet illegal images of child pornography.
At the point where the GMC receives information from the police, arrangements will be made to convene an Interim Orders Tribunal (IOT) hearing. Where there is credible evidence against a doctor (or at the point of criminal charge), the GMC will generally suspend the doctor from the register. Conditions of practise might be imposed, in the alternative, where the police investigation is an at early stage and there is very little information available to the GMC.
Police investigations can take many months to complete because the forensic analysis of computers that have been seized requires a dedicated specialist expert to undertake the work. There is often a backlog of cases because of the length of time it takes for the analysis and reporting to be undertaken.
If no indecent images of children are found on the doctors computers, and the police investigation is dropped, then the GMC is likely to lift the interim order.
Whether a doctor is suspended or has to work under conditions, many employers will exclude the doctor from work until the police investigation is completed.
It can take many months for the criminal case to be processed in the criminal courts. Some doctors will be jailed, while others may be given a community punishment order or a suspended sentence. Almost all doctors who are convicted of child pornography possession, or the downloading of indecent images of children, will be ordered to attend a sexual offenders course (of treatment and rehabilitation). Such courses operate over a number of months and are aimed at reducing the risks of reoffending. The doctor is also likely to be placed on the Sex Offenders Register, and be banned from working with Children.
The GMC will inevitably refer doctors who are convicted of making or downloading indecent images of children, to a fitness to practise (FTP) panel hearing. The trend, currently, is that most doctors are struck off. However, there may be certain classes of case where it is open to the doctor to argue for a different disposal. The approach to be taken by healthcare regulators in such cases has been set in the case of: CHRP, GDC, Fleischmann  EWHC 87 (Admin). For a fuller exposition of this case, see our GMC and MPTS case digest page.
In Dr John Rumbold v The General Medical Council  EWHC 2569 (Admin) – two 12 month periods of suspension were imposed, so totally 24 months. (November 2007) Note that the case was further reviewed by the GMC on 11 October 2008. The doctor was erased at that hearing, on the basis of a lack of insight, a failure to provide the evidence, and due to the seriousness of the history. This determination is available on the GMC website, via their online search of named doctors.
Other cases that may also be of relevance include: Razak v GMC  EWHC 205 (Admin), and Haikel v General Medical Council (GMC)  UKPC 37
The above case law is a useful aid to understanding the approach that the supervising courts expect of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), when the MPTS panels are tasked with assessing the fitness to practise of a registered medical practitioner.
The GMC’s Indicative Sanctions Guidance sets out how GMC/MPTS panels should approach cases concerning child pornography. The prime duty of any MPTS panellist considering a case is to protect the public and uphold public confidence in the profession, while at the same time coming to a proportionate and justifiable sanction, on the evidence before them, and on the merits of the particular case they are examining. The level of offending and the nature and number of images that have been downloaded will also be a relevant consideration. The more serious the depictions within the images, and the greater the number of collected images, the more likely the sanction of erasure will be.
A report from a clinical psychologist may be helpful, by way of evidence, to set out the doctor’s insight and risk of reoffending in the future. This is usually obtained at the expense of the doctor, as part of defence preparations, rather than the GMC arranging for such a report. For additional further reading, see our article on Indecent Doctors.
If a doctor has the support of an employer or potential employer, and a job offer that provides ongoing support and supervision, it may be possible to argue that a doctor should stay on the register. Where a doctor does not work directly with patients, the doctor will arguably have a marginally greater prospect of remaining on the register.
The press (whether it be newspapers, online news services, or television news channels) will, of course, be interested in the outcomes of cases that concern doctors who have downloaed child pornography. And that is especially so where the doctor is also a paediatrician. See also, by way of example, the following news stories concerning doctors: Paediatrician Arrested, Operation Ore, Doctor Struck Off for Child Pornography, Doctor Admits Making Indecent Images of Children.
Other helpful legal resources include:
Doctors Defence Service represents doctors facing criminal investigation, criminal proceedings, and GMC proceedings. Contact us in strict confidence to discuss your case, on: 0800 10 88 739