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GPs go forth

Judge rules health secretary's right to suspend GPs' pensions before conviction is 'unlawful'

New powers that allow the health secretary to suspend NHS pensions benefits for GPs if they are accused of a crime are in breach of several laws, a judge has ruled.

In a High Court case, brought by the BMA, the judge concluded that changes made last April allowing the health secretary to remove the rights of NHS pension scheme members if they have been charged with certain offences - but not yet convicted - were 'unlawful'.

Last year Pulse exclusively revealed the Government had decided to extend existing 'forfeiture' rules, which previously only allowed the health secretary to suspend NHS pension benefits if a person had been convicted of an offence.

At the time the BMA argued the changes would put 'innocent members to hardship' and called for them to be abandoned.

During the case, the High Court heard the Government's decision was in breach of UK and EU law, including the Equality Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

In her judgement, Mrs Justice Andrews said the Government had made no distinction between someone charged with a crime and someone convicted of a crime - which is contrary to the legal system's presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Responding to the ruling, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'Today’s judgment is a victory for our members and for all NHS professionals across England and Wales who could have been unlawfully deprived of their pensions benefits had these rules remained in place.

'We could not allow the Government to simply disregard the fundamental principle that a person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. These rules assume guilt from the outset with little regard for the impact on a doctor’s well-being, career or personal life.'

He added: 'From the evidence presented it is clear the Government made no assessment, or worse just disregarded, the potential effect this rule change would have on those who are retired and already drawing on their pensions and those who are older, ill or disabled.'

The Department for Health and Social Care has been approached for comment. 

Readers' comments (10)

  • Was just grandstanding by the government. The health minister (or even better a random minister picked out of the hat) should personally have to pay all the costs involved, regardless of whether it was him/her personally who made the decision,

    It doesn't matter if they are guilty or not of making a terrible decision, they should just have to pay anyway.

    That is justice.

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  • pension terminated - hmm should be refunding all the employers and employees contributions to the Dr then

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  • Vinci Ho

    There are some interesting political as well as judicial implications from this :
    (1) ‘Presumed innocent until proven guilt’ is the cornerstone principle of western democracy and particularly in British common law . It is most extraordinary that this government was quietly imposing these changes in NHS and prepared to treat doctors differently outside this principle. GMC has been acting religiously and faithfully along this ideology.
    The difference between being charged and being convicted is fundamental in our legal system . Yet , this government and its prime minister(s) are merging executive and legislative power in one to implement its secret agendas repeatedly . Suddenly , these doctors being ‘charged’ found themselves teleported to courts in Turkey , Russia , China , North Korea etc .
    (2) Remember the fiasco of prorogation of the Parliament a few months ago (October last year ) ? Our PM clearly slaked his thirst of exercising this ‘power’ in a high profile fashion , despite being ruled unlawful by Supreme Court eventually. Obviously, he was running a lame-duck government which , in a matter of two months , turned into a comfortable majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons . So , are we going to see more of this kind of political demeanour in the near future ?
    (3) Supreme Court appears to be the obvious target for ‘reforms’ if our PM chose to be vengeful . Some said that one of the reasons for the prolonged and abhorrent delay of implementing Brexit characterised by the paralysis in parliament, was the lack of a fit-for-purpose constitution to prevent the kind of deadlock between the government and the parliament we had witnessed. Traditionally, the power of our judiciary remains independent. But the story of Brexit , so far , facilitated by pro-government media , has repeatedly jeopardised this social norm of western(or shall I say , liberal ) democracy
    Where do we go from here ? I think we need even more overseeing of this government’s behaviour from bottom to the top . Yes , it has strong power but not necessarily the authority.

    ‘’Authority and power are two different things: power is the force by means of which you can oblige others to obey you. Authority is the right to direct and command, to be listened to or obeyed by others. Authority requests power. Power without authority is tyranny.‘’

    JACQUES MARITAIN, "The Democratic Charter," Man and the State

    To me , the three qualities to earn authority in western democracy are namely , transparency, honesty and humility in 21st century ........

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  • Transparency ,honesty and humility characteristic sadly lacking in the current political classes right from Boris and co right down to the BMA GMC RCGP etal a very good piece Vinci as usual, salute!

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  • Well said Vinci!

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  • I second all those words, in cycling terms “chapeau”

    Perhaps our leaders (both medical and political) should take see note of this and other comments regarding recent articles.

    Then again, I doubt it.

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  • The doctors have paid into their pensions so what is the rationale for not paying it? Such a ruling is not fair to the spouses and children of the doctor. Are other professions similarly treated?

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  • Human rights restored to doctors - Wow.We have some rights. Now if only the other regulatory agencies would treat doctors in a similar way- Innocent until proven guilty.

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  • depends if you've got a pension to be taken away, with the way capita are working there wont be any pensions left - guess its another brilliant wheeze by government to lose NHS pensions so doctors leave the nhs pension scheme and then the government don't have to pay for them. How many MPs are employed by private pension companies i wonder? just saying

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  • Trust in the pension is gone.
    They will raid whatever you have. Their work ethics suck.
    Seeing what they are doing sends a clear message to doctors. Leave if you can.
    If you are unfortunate enough to stay, don't bother working too hard or helping. If you do, they will tax till you pay to work and look for ways to get you in trouble with NHSE, GMC, CQC, Gross Negligence Manslaughter charges. Double, triple, quadruple jeopardy all for being a doctor in the UK. A pity Australia is closing it's doors.

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