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

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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.