Pridgeon v Medical Council of New South Wales  NSWCA 60 (link to Caselaw).
With thanks to Ada Lim for drawing my attention to this appellate decision. The NSW Court of Appeal has helpfully provided a headnote from which the following summary is drawn.
The appellant, Dr Pridgeon, was a registered medical practitioner. On 29 October 2018, the respondent, the Medical Council of New South Wales, determined pursuant to s 150 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (NSW) to suspend Dr Pridgeon’s registration, after he was charged by the Australian Federal Police and later the Queensland Police with offences against the respective criminal codes of the Commonwealth and Queensland.
The charges related to Dr Pridgeon’s role in harbouring and/or supporting a woman and her twin daughters. The children had been removed by their mother from a place in Queensland and not returned to the custody of their father, who was named as a residential parent by order of the Family Court of Australia and the parent with whom the Family Court had ordered the children to live. At the time when the mother took and secreted the children, she only had a right of supervised contact with them. Dr Pridgeon maintained that she had informed him that the children’s father had sexually abused them.
Initial order for suspension.
Dr Pridgeon sought a review of that decision pursuant to s 150A. On 2 December 2020, the Medical Council affirmed the order for suspension of Dr Pridgeon’s registration as a medical practitioner. Dr Pridgeon then appealed from these determinations to the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal. On 30 June 2021, the Tribunal upheld Dr Pridgeon’s suspension on the ground of public interest and dismissed his appeal. Dr Pridgeon sought leave to appeal from that decision.
The principal issues before the Court were:
(i) whether the Tribunal exercised its power “in the public interest” by purporting indefinitely to suspend Dr Pridgeon’s registration as a medical practitioner pursuant to s 150 of the National Law;
(ii) whether the Tribunal erred in law by acting without any factual basis upon which the exercise of the emergency power contained in s 150 depends.
Held by the Court, granting leave to appeal and allowing the appeal:
- In the context of Subdivision 7 of the National Law, the reference to the “public interest” should be understood as a reference to the public interest in the protection of the public’s health and safety. The content to be given to that protection must take its meaning from the conduct of the practice of medicine in respect of which a medical practitioner’s registration is granted: at .
- It was not in the public interest to suspend Dr Pridgeon as it could not (yet) be said that Dr Pridgeon’s alleged defiance of the court’s orders undermined the rule of law. Dr Pridgeon’s guilt was not a foregone conclusion. Although the Tribunal paid lip service to the presumption of innocence and did not make findings of guilt, its conclusions were patently infected by assumptions of guilt: at .
- The context of s 150 of the National Law suggests that it should only be invoked as an emergency power where the circumstances are urgent. This implication arises from the fact that Division 3 provides for the primary mechanism for regulating the profession by way of particularised complaints, including an oral hearing if sought, to be dealt with by the Tribunal, not the Medical Council, if suspension is sought. That construction is reinforced by the Explanatory Memorandum and the Second Reading Speech: at .
- There was no urgency in this matter at any time before or during the Tribunal hearing. As such, the Tribunal erred in exercising the emergency power contained in s 150 of the National Law where the circumstances did not warrant its exercise: at .