The Straits Times
Published on Nov 28, 2012

Medical council needs legal advice in disciplinary process


THE Singapore Medical Council (SMC) had taken action against two doctors for alleged misconduct and had its decisions overturned and set aside by the courts ("SMC inquiry panel needs legal expert"; Nov 16).

When Court of Appeal judge V. K. Rajah called the SMC hearing "legally embarrassing" and "unjust", it clearly shows that although the SMC may consist of senior and competent doctors in their field of practice, they lack legal knowledge and expertise.

Most doctors are not familiar with "hearsay evidence", "burden of proof" and the rules of natural justice. So when confronted by the defendant's senior counsel, the SMC will take the line of least resistance.

In Malaysia, patients may complain to the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) and a preliminary investigation committee (PIC) will look into the matter. If the committee has reason to believe that the complaint is true, a date will be set for an inquiry. If the complaint proceeds to a formal hearing, both parties may call witnesses to support their case. The respondent practitioner may be represented by a counsel.

After adducing evidence, if the committee finds no sufficient grounds to support the allegation, it may recommend to the MMC that no action be taken. Similarly, if there is clear evidence in favour of the patient, further disciplinary action may be taken against the errant doctor.

The SMC's Malaysian opposite can erase from the Medical Register the name of any doctor guilty of professional misconduct. It can also reprimand or suspend the doctor's registration. The doctor has one month to appeal to the High Court against any decision of the MMC.

In any disciplinary inquiry against a doctor, the issues may be legally complex and procedurally challenging. For the SMC to hold any inquiry without significant legal assistance and extensive legal preparation is akin to scaling a very high mountain without the aid of an oxygen tank.

Heng Cho Choon