Another GDC Expert Witness Left Wanting

Another GDC Expert Witness Left Wanting

The GDC once again have serious questions to answer, as yet another case shows serious failings in their Fitness to Practice (FtP) processes.

The regulator already has to contend with the continuing embarrassment of their persistent evasion over the number of dentists taking their life during FTP, and has managed to leave the dental world struggling to take in the huge consequences of their bungled attempt to push back in the GDC v Williams case. And now a fresh GDC scandal may also prove problematic for a well known figure in dentistry, as well as an influential professional organisation.

The latest blow to the GDC’s credibility has slipped out via their hearings page. The case of GDC v Charnley sheds a light on many of the Fitness to Practice (FtP) processes most egregious failings, but it is in the realm of the choice of expert witnesses to support the council’s case, that it is most damming.

The GDC’s expert witness, when tested by the defence revealed a serious lack of knowledge and possibly an even more alarming lack of curiosity. He appeared to change his opinions during the case and indeed it is largely as a result of his contradictory evidence that the panel found that there was no case to answer. This is a rare outcome in FtP hearings, and reflects the panels opinion not just that the alleged misdemeanours do not merit a sanction, but that even at the low civil standard, they do not accept that the defendant did anything on the GDC charge sheet.

The charge sheet had contained 10 charges, in one of which no less than 20 examples were cited. By the time of the hearing, 6 of the charges had been withdrawn since the GDC expert witness had “revised his criticisms and considers that these heads of charge are no longer evidentially sustainable.” Despite this, the GDC were clearly determined to press on with the remaining charges.

Mr McDonagh, acting for Dr Charnley, submitted that the quality of the evidence before the Committee in relation to Head of Charge 8 was such that it could properly be described as being “of a tenuous character, for example, because of inherent weakness or vagueness or because it is inconsistent with other evidence.” It was charge 8 that had 20 examples provided.

Considering submissions, the committee heard that the GDC expert witness had changed his position and accepted that the head of charge 8 was unsustainable. This was based upon no less than nine factors which were listed. Later the expert had then made heads of charge that were ‘unsustainable’ into charges that he would now support. He had been asked by Counsel and the Committee, “to explain why he had made this ‘volte face.’”

Mr McDonagh is quoted describing the GDC expert’s “flip-flopping” as “excruciating”. He said that his opinion reflected an untenable position and merely served to underline his lack of understanding as to the issues that remained live in the case. He spoke of the GDC experts “evident lack of expertise” that the case had necessitated. It remained “a live issue” whether the GDC expert understood or even looked at key data in the manner the case required. He went on: “That is not a situation that should be allowed to exist for a moment longer and the submission should be allowed.” Even at this point the GDC submitted that there was “more than enough evidence to require the case to proceed.”

The committee then moved to its determination and concluded that there was no case to answer, stating that it had “determined that there is no evidence on which a reasonable committee, properly directed, could find the remaining Heads of charge proved. It bases its decision after taking all the GDC’s evidence at its highest including the uncontested witness statements.”

The GDC expert witness in this case also had the same role in the Williams “top up” case that has caused so much turmoil. Once again this was a case where the GDC sought to “prove” dishonesty. GDPUK is aware of concerns being expressed about this expert witness’s work some years ago. Despite this the GDC have been pleased to employ him to do this work.

The GDC was seeking a finding of dishonesty in this case. When “proved” this usually results in erasure. This is another case where a young dentist has been subjected to the full weight of the GDC’s FTP process over many months at a personal cost one can only imagine. This was a case that should never have reached this stage, pursued using an expert witness with a questionable record, but even as their case crumbled the GDC sought to continue it.

For the GDC, this provides yet another example of the failures in its FtP process. The GDC’s frequent excuse that it is hampered by older legislation is no answer for its apparent indulgence of expert witnesses whose principal expertise would appear to be bolstering the GDC’s case irrespective of its merits. Just as the recent top up judgement may result in previous questionable decisions being put back under the spotlight, others who have suffered sanctions based on this expert’s evidence may feel that they have grounds to take action.

Further reading: The determination of the GDC case v Luke Charnley can be read here

Image - Expert witness by Nick Youngson 

CC BY-SA 3.0


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