Hospital Dr News

Unlawful changes to doctors’ pensions scrapped after judicial review

Controversial changes to pensions rules granting the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care the power to suspend doctors’ pensions payments have been thrown out by the High Court.

In April 2019, the Secretary of State amended NHS pension rules in England and Wales giving himself the power to suspend payment of pensions benefits to a doctor or NHS professional who had been charged with certain criminal offences, but not yet convicted.

Most, if not all, public sector pension schemes contain provisions for the suspension of a person’s benefits but only after the point of conviction.

Yet, if the changes were to be allowed to subsist, NHS professionals would be the only public sector workers to have the threat of forfeiture of their pension hanging over them at any time from charge.

In a judicial review, brought by the BMA, the High Court said that the new regulations breached Article 6 (right to a fair trial), Article 14 (protection from discrimination) and Article 1, Protocol 1 (right to peaceful enjoyment of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and also breached the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under the Equality Act (in failing to have regard to the equality implications of the changes).

In her judgment, the Hon. Mrs Justice Andrews highlighted that the Government had drawn no distinction between someone charged with a crime and someone convicted of a crime despite the fundamental principle in law being that ‘every defendant to a criminal charge, however serious, and however compelling the evidence against him may appear, is presumed innocent until proved guilty to the criminal standard’.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “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.”

Dr Rob Hendry, Medical Director at Medical Protection, added: “Doctors are increasingly working under pressure. When things go wrong they can face complaints and claims from patients, reputational damage in the media and restrictions on their license to practice by the regulator.

“These changes to pension arrangements only added to the profession’s fear of being exposed to excessively punitive consequences.”

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