His Honour David Pearl has overseen the running of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) since it was launched in 2012. Nearly five years on, David prepares for retirement after a successful career in law where his work included being the President of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal and President of the Care Standards Tribunal.
Here, David reflects on his time at the MPTS and what he believes the future holds for the operationally separate adjudication service. Dame Caroline Swift takes over as Chair of the MPTS in the New Year.
What have been the highlights of your time at the MPTS?
We have had some great achievements, particularly the autonomy the tribunal service has from the GMC, which investigates complaints about doctors. Our autonomy is such that the GMC is challenging a number of decisions made by our tribunals by appealing to the High Court – I am comfortable with that, it shows our tribunals’ independence.
There has been a major cultural change during my time at the MPTS. Tribunal members are now treated as professional decision makers rather than as members of a jury.
We have around 280 tribunal members, who come with a wealth of experience from medical and non-medical backgrounds. The feedback we have received about tribunal members is very positive, which is a credit to the high standard of training and the appraisals they receive.
We have also introduced legally qualified chairs (LQC) and the trial using LQCs has been very successful.
Changes such as legally qualified chairs and the GMC’s right of appeal were part of legislative reforms introduced last December to modernise and improve the way we run hearings.
Have you enjoyed the role of MPTS chair?
It has really been very good. What I have tried to do is meet tribunal members and legal assessors at least once a week. It is important to understand what their issues are. My previous work in courts and tribunals could be quite isolating, I have really enjoyed the interaction with the staff and tribunal members.
I have particularly enjoyed going around the medical community talking to a range of people including students at medical schools about the work we do. I’ve been to quite a few universities over the past few years. The MPTS has an important role to play in raising standards in the medical profession by explaining the consequences of a serious breach of those standards.
How will Dame Caroline Swift be able to build on the success of the MPTS?
Dame Caroline comes with a wealth of experience from her 27 years of practice as a barrister specialising in medico-legal claims, and from her time spent presiding over a wide variety of cases, both criminal and civil, when a High Court Judge.
While a Queen’s Counsel, she was Leading Counsel to the Shipman Inquiry. It was the Shipman Inquiry Report which first recommended greater separation between the investigation and adjudication of GMC fitness to practise cases; that recommendation ultimately led to the creation of the MPTS.
Dame Caroline is therefore familiar with the type of work we do and has considerable experience of conducting hearings and also of training, in her former capacity as Director of Civil Training for the Judicial College. Dame Caroline will be of great value to the MPTS.
What is in-store for the future of the MPTS?
Dame Caroline will have her own ideas, of course. However, in the future I believe the MPTS will see LQCs increasingly becoming the norm, although there will continue to be a need for legal assessors.
We need to continue our work on case management both before and during hearings to make sure hearings finish within the allocated time. The courts have deprecated the culture of adjournments, and it is in no-one’s interest to have cases not concluding within the time. Also, I believe there could be joint training with other regulators as a step towards greater cooperation.
What do you plan to do when you leave the MPTS?
I am looking forward to starting on my bucket list of places to visit with Gillian, my wife. We also have nine grandchildren and I look forward to spending more time with them. And we intend on staying in our house in France for more than just a few weeks in any one year.
Prof Louis Appleby talks about his work to help identify what changes could be made to GMC processes to make them more compassionate to doctors
The GMC’s Anna Rowland blogs about proposals to ease the pressure on vulnerable doctors subject to a GMC investigation