Sharma v Jay & Others (No.2)

Reference: 11/02/2004

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Eady J

Date of judgment: 11 Feb 2004

Summary: Defamation - Slander - Stay of proceedings - concurrent GMC disciplinary proceedings

Appearances: Desmond Browne QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)  Adrienne Page QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Carter-Ruck for the Claimant; Wiggin & Co for the Defendants

Facts

The Claimant was a psychiatrist with a particular interest in schizophrenia. As well as being a senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry (“IOP”) he owned a private clinical research-based company called Psychmed Limited. In 1999 the Claimant agreed to carry out a comparative study into drugs for schizophrenia which was funded by a pharmaceutical company in the sum of £175,000. In 2000 the company became concerned about certain aspects of the Claimant’s conduct and retained the Third Defendant to investigate its concerns. The First and Second Defendant (for the Third Defendant) attended a meeting in March 2001 at the IOP in order to find out more about the study. The Claimant contended that at the meeting he was slandered. The Defendants pleaded qualified privilege and justification. The GMC were inquiring into the Claimant’s activities and the Defendants applied for a stay pending the resolution of those inquiries.

Issue

Whether a stay should be granted pending the conclusion of the GMC proceedings.

Held

Refusing the application. The GMC had not formulated any charges against the Claimant. The libel proceedings had been commenced some time ago – with a date for trial fixed – and had “seniority” over the GMC proceedings. In any event, any findings made by the GMC would not be determinative of any issues in the slander claim (Gee v BBC, 30 July 1984) considered.

Comment

These court proceedings can achieve, albeit imperfectly, as almost always, vindication and they can result in an award of damages if those remedies are appropriate. That again is not something available within the structure and jurisdiction of the GMC. Of course, one pays the greatest respect to the expertise of the GMC in resolving matters of a professional nature and in particular of a medical nature, but here … there are very serious allegations of dishonesty made on both sides. It cannot seriously be suggested that priority should be given to GMC proceedings for the resolution of issues of that kind.
Eady J §10