Medical Council proceedings against PN MP thrown out by Court

Judge describes Medical Council’s disciplinary proceedings against doctor and PN MP Stephen Spiteri as a ‘classic case of a structural lack of objective impartiality’

Nationalist MP Stephen Spiteri
Nationalist MP Stephen Spiteri

“A classic case of a structural lack of objective impartiality leading to a breach of the fundamental right to a fair hearing,” is how a judge described the Medical Council’s disciplinary proceedings against doctor and PN MP Stephen Spiteri, declaring them to be null.

The First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, Mr. Justice Robert Mangion presiding, handed down judgement, upholding Spiteri's claim that his fair hearing rights had been breached as a result of an investigation by the Medical Council over allegations of him signing medical certificates without first examining patients.

The judge ruled that the many “hats” worn by the Medical Council in such cases - investigating, prosecuting and issuing penalties - meant that proceedings before it could not be seen as objectively impartial.

The constitutional case was filed in 2020, with Spiteri accusing the Medical Council of acting as judge, jury and prosecutor in his case.

Spiteri, a doctor, had been investigated by the council in connection with a story published in 2017 by Lovin Malta which alleged that Spiteri had been issuing medical certificates without having actually seen the patients.

The doctor had been asked to provide an explanation to the council in December 2017 and had done so within the month, but received no further communication until October the following year, when Spiteri was summoned before the medical board so as to answer to the charges which the council had issued against him.

In the constitutional application filed by Spiteri’s lawyers, it was argued that the board did not satisfy the requirement that disciplinary proceedings to be heard before and independent and impartial tribunal.

The Medical Council argued that the proceedings were independent and impartial and that all parties were afforded equal opportunities to state their case, adding that Spiteri also had the right to file an appeal against the council's decision.

The council also submitted that the separation of prosecuting and decision-making bodies only applied in criminal cases, and not to disciplinary proceedings. Neither did the articles of the constitution and the European Convention cited applied to such proceedings, it argued.

Mr. Justice Robert Mangion disagreed, however, observing that a doctor could only file an appeal if the council struck his name off the medical register or imposed a fine of over €20,000, and not in cases of suspension.

The judge also ordered that a copy of the judgment is sent to the Speaker of Parliament.

Lawyers Victor Scerri and Duncan Borg Myatt represented Dr. Spiteri in the proceedings.