Whistleblower to Vexatious
OF POWER and PUNISHMENTS WITHOUT CRIMES
Dismissal from Public Service
published by the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists 2003, updated 2008
Grahame Woolf FRCPsych
Medical Member of Mental Health Review Tribunal
Editor Journal of Social and Clinical Psychiatry &
" I would now advise anyone
not to bring up a problem in a hospital because they will be disciplined.."
sacked after reporting his discovery of thousands of unreported X-rays
in a teaching hospital)
Hospital Doctor, 13 December 2007
paper relates to two Mental Health Review Tribunal hearings for
applicants detained in hospital for assessment in 1994 and 1997.
occasions, the writer was the medical member of the panel. After the
first, the social worker reported within her department that she had
felt unduly pressed by questioning about her discharge plans for the
patient. She had not made any representations to the Tribunal President
and no one else at the hearing reported anything untoward either at the
time or later. Responding to a subsequent complaint made on her behalf,
I apologised that she had felt discomfited by my questions about her
client's social circumstances and potential homelessness. He later died
in police custody and the coroner's critical conclusions (publicised in
an investigative TV documentary) highlighted his vulnerability, which
was consistent with the questioning having been both pertinent and
second patient mentioned in passing during his preliminary examination
that he thought he recognised me as having examined him some years
before. He raised this again during the hearing, having not done so with
his lawyer beforehand. A consequent request for an adjournment was
granted nem con, although in like circumstances many Tribunal
Presidents would have ruled that the hearing should proceed regardless.
The applicant was not disadvantaged by a one week delay and he was not
discharged at the adjourned hearing. The Regional Chairman, Judge Henry
Palmer, subsequently took me to task for having omitted to pass on the
information of possible prior contact with the patient before the
instances I was summarily suspended by letter pending investigation of
the complaints – bolts from the blue! The first suspension was lifted
partially following a meeting at the Department of Health, but the
second was converted by the then Lord Chancellor to formal dismissal
after prolonged correspondence. That action, initiated by Judge Palmer,
was endorsed and made permanent by the Lord Chancellor, the dismissal
effectively terminating the career of an experienced senior consultant
specialist in medico-legal psychiatry.
Lord Chancellor's decision was taken without my having had any meetings
with members of his Department (now the Department of Constitutional
Affairs) nor with representatives of the Department of Health, which had
joint responsibility for the Mental Health Review Tribunal.
only brief meeting I was afforded eventually was with an official of the
Lord Chancellor's Department when I was accompanied by a consultant
forensic psychologist colleague. We reiterated our concerns but
discussion of the dismissal decision was explicitly disallowed [q.v. - -
the decision of the Lord Chancellor is not subject to appeal
(June 1988) - - ].
reasons had ever been given other beyond the Lord Chancellor writing "any
likelihood that public confidence in [the holder's] impartialiaty will
be impaired' [27 June 1998]. He discounted the explanation that the
relevant Tribunal Rules, which members of MHRT panels held constantly in
mind, relate only to recent treatment; a contravention would have
applied only had I treated the patient, and "recently" too, instead of
just assessing him.
Logistics make it a far from uncommon occurrence for a patient to be
seen by the same MHRT panel member on more than one occasion. When it
emerges that a patient had been seen before by one of the panel, it is
more usual for the hearing to continue rather than be adjourned. It is
rare for a medical member to be questioned about such a routine
occurrence, let alone for it to attract official attention and lead to a
suspension; I know of no similar case.
of the enquiry process, requests for disclosure of evidence were always
systematically denied. This was eventually justified by the Lord
Chancellor's Department under a relatively unfamiliar Code of Conduct,
invoked only after it had been conceded that the power to withhold the
documents was actually discretionary, not mandatory as previously had
been claimed in error, with an apology that I had been misled by them !
"Neither the Data Protection Act nor the Code of Practice on Access to
Government Information prohibits the release of information" (August
Department went on to cite a "non-statutory Code of Practice on Access
to Government Information in respect of individuals holding judicial
appointments", concluding with a denial of the request for information:
"I therefore under exemption 8 of the Code refuse your request" (Aug
2003). That "therefore" makes it abundantly clear that withholding
information remained an imperative in my case.
energetic support over many years from the Society of Clinical
Psychiatrists and my MP, an appeal was never able to progress. Legal
advice had been that a judicial review would have a good chance of
succeeding, but that route was precluded by costs considerations [Any
costs you incur are at your own risk. (10 2 2004, PLH to PGW)].
left wondering why such an extreme course of action was taken, and in
such a secretive manner. However it should be mentioned that during the
frustrated correspondence I had seen fit to lodge a formal complaint
against the Regional Chairman. That, to my knowledge, was never dealt
with and Judge Palmer left office some short while later. Might that
attempt at "whistleblowing" have been a factor in the Decision to make
my suspension permanent? It is suggested that this experience reflects a
classic case of abuse of power.
has to be a better way of checking apparent unfairness and
misunderstandings, and similarly to resolve problems that are amenable
to quick and obvious solutions. In the current climate of supposedly
greater openness by government, this paper is presented as an example of
why this is so desirable and indeed necessary. What else could I have
done to get to the truth?
Whistle-blowing, abuse of power, secrecy, evasiveness, blind alleys,
Sometimes, you have to lose
a job to find a voice
(William Rees-Mogg, The Times 10 November 2003)
paper has several interlinked purposes, its driving force a belief that
in an advanced democratic society injustice ought to be capable of easy
embarked upon during enforced inactivity with a broken leg, and as an
experiment in writing an in-depth study which, by its nature, could be
published only on the internet. It draws upon the WWW's unique hyperlink
resource for context.
original paper grew over several years into a substantial piece of
investigative journalism, on an esoteric topic of very limited public
interest, revealing unexpected anomalies in the workings of one major
government department (the Lord Chancellor's) which responded punitively
to a complaint. It required persistent probing into the workings of
interlinked government organisations from which information was sought.
explores the realities of exaggerated claims that Britain has moved
towards a climate of "openness" in public life, covering a period before
and since the coming into operation of the Freedom of Information Act,
and demonstrates by example that the Act's promise is tending to prove
something of a chimera.
unapologetically long and tedious, tracing the evasions and delays which
prevent the emergence of embarrassing truths.
COMPLAINING ABOUT A JUDGE
complains lightly about a Judge, nor to one of Her Majesty's senior
the 1990s "whistleblowing" had purportedly became respectable, so that
school and workplace bullying became anathema, if not eliminated. [q.v.
my final POSTSCRIPT below and the SCP chairman's
Whilst we were sleeping]
complaint to the then Lord Chancellor about one of his Mental Health
Review Tribunal Regional Chairmen sought to test what happens in
outcome was dismissal of the complaint and of the complainer (long
delayed and arguably perfunctory in its reasoning). That fostered an
enduring sense of grievance and injustice.
very belatedly have I learned unequivocally the reality of the futility
of complaining about a Judge to his superior, the Lord Chancellor; "The
lord chancellor has a statutory obligation to defend the judiciary
written into his job description -
-" The Guardian 2006 ]
Research for other publications (listed below) discovered the secret
ways in which government acts, and how heavily the dice can be loaded
against a wronged individual in byways of public life which do not
attract media attention.
daring to complain rebounded. My suspensions and eventual dismissal from
medical membership of the Mental Health Review Tribunal had consequent
profound effects upon a professional career, income and personal life.
Ministerial decisions, inevitably including occasional perverse ones,
are unappealable except through complex judicial review, not lightly to
be embarked upon and frequently unaffordable by an individual.
Received wisdom is that whistleblowing is risky and necessarily to be
forgone by those still on the career ladder, whose individual stories
remain private and unshared except in confidential secrecy, such as the
SCP provides in its support group for suspended doctors. The majority of
its suspendee members are eventually fully exonerated.
therefore only possible to share this experience of testing so-called
“open government” because the writer is long retired from NHS hospital
employment and not dependent for career progress upon approval and
received in my case has ranged from "forget
it, and get on with your life"
to "it is
inconceivable that the Lord Chancellor would not support one of his
judges" and, in
respect of a (fifth) review (recommended ten years after the first of
two suspensions and complaint about it), a warning that it was "
vanishingly improbable " that yet
another review recommended to the present Lord Chancellor by an official
in his Department would make any difference...
after a decade-long saga of correspondence, with shorter paper
publications intervening on some aspects of the problems, was a
face-to-face meeting finally convened with someone in the long chains of
power holders and their representatives, after years of trying. But
frustratingly this proved to be ring-fenced and not the anticipated
opportunity for mutual exchanges towards concensus and righting wrongs.
the 1990s "whistleblowing" became respectable, and school and workplace
bullying has now become anathema, though far from eliminated. [
commonplace and unremarkable incidents at Mental Health Review Tribunal
hearings in 1994 and 1997, which have been written up elsewhere, and
would more usually have passed without special notice, led to a
complaint by a senior consultant psychiatrist (the writer) about how a
Regional Chairman of the MHRT had over-responded to two matters brought
to his attention, distorting and blowing them up out of all proportion.
Complaining rebounded, unexpectedly and long afterwards, resulting with
dismissal by the then Lord Chancellor from medical membership of the
" - - On 22 September 1997 you
wrote to me complaining about your suspension from the Mental Health
Review Tribunal - - because you had sectioned the patient two years
[I had actually not done so, which is material ! q.v. discussions of the
MHRT Rules below]
- - it would not be
appropriate for your appointment to continue - - if the Regional
Chairman did suspend your appointment in a manner which amounted to
termination, this would have been incorrect, as I alone have the power
to terminate an appointment.
However, in the
circumstances, this would have made no difference - - ”
Lord Chancellor Irvine to PGW, June 1998)
Secret Evidence and
paper illustrates by graphic example how British "open government" is
still paralysed by its reliance upon the enshrined doctrine that
ministerial decisions, however flawed, are unappealable once they have
been taken [Google lists 222 English pages for "ministerial
decisions unappealable"] There has not, it seems, been any
significant relaxation since the Freedom of Information Act came into
force of the at the beginning of 2005.
tradition engenders a world of unreality in which admission of human
error and apology becomes impossible.
incidents themselves, and especially the withholding of any evidence
that might exist to explain the over-reactions, have been reported fully
in the MHRT Members' NewsSheet and Journal and elsewhere. All the points
quoted above in key passages from the dismissal letter of June 1998 had
been vigorously rebutted in legally assisted correspondence with the
Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD), and traversed in a series of
publications about the MHRT.
procession of loyal officials, with their hands tied behind their backs,
has tried to bolster up a patently flawed Decision (drafted apparently
by a civil servant, NRO, and signed by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord
Irvine) by evading persistent questioning from the consultant
psychiatrist victim, his MP and the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists,
year after year.
Admitted illegality in the original actions was brushed aside loftily as
irrelevant, and the last of 13 representatives of the two Lords
Chancellor's departments has justified the refusal of meetings
throughout by characterising the persistent representations as 'a
vented his irritation that his hands are tied by threatening to dub the
writer a 'vexatious
to complain about a retired Judge had rebounded after a long wait.
Suspension and eventual dismissal from medical membership of the Mental
Health Review Tribunal had consequent profound adverse effects upon a
professional career and personal life.
paper, too lengthy for paper publication, seeks to comprehend an unusual
sequence of events, and to document in depth processes of governmental
decision making, notably high levels of secrecy and protective
defensiveness which ought to have become unthinkable in an open
democracy around the turn of the century. The following quote will be
examined in depth.
- the power to withhold the documents from you is discretionary
provisions of the Data Protection Act do not apply - -
considered whether the information should be released to you
non-statutory Code of Practice on Access to Government Information - -
refuse your request under exemption 8 of the Code - - “
Constitutional Affairs, August 2003)
" - -
If ever you want to hold
power accountable, you need access to the documents
- - "
(Judge Albie Sachs;
Guardian Review, August 2006)
particular, it challenges the basis of the Government's refusal to
disclose crucial documentation, “evidence” which, had it been accepted
unquestioningly at face value, might have caused, and conceivably could
even have justified, unique and disproportionate punishments for what
could only be properly characterized as questionable or (at the highest)
very minor misdemeanours.
It is only possible to share this experience of testing so-called “open
government” because the writer is virtually retired and so no longer
dependent for career progress upon approval and patronage. Necessary
circumspection has ensured that the full stories of the far more
numerous and news-worthy suspensions of NHS consultants in mid-career
remain hidden. The majority of them are eventually fully exonerated.
a heavy read,
and hoping to help excuse its length, the narrative is punctuated with
which may broaden the context and help to hold readers' attention?
perhaps in medical journalism, a like method has successfully been
adopted to get unsavory realities across to a wider public in political
What I Heard About Iraq
at Edinburgh Festival 2006, using only fully verifiable facts and
quotes, to demonstrate the secrets behind the lies about Iraq as a
theatrical collage. It "makes
you question just about everything you've heard and read. - - It's like
watching someone trying to dig themselves out of a deep hole and only
succeeding in covering themselves with sand - - in a world where it's
increasingly difficult to know what to believe, you can't just take
words at face value but must learn to read between the lines
felt isolated and bereft - - as though all the years I have put into my
job were for nothing"
"- - one of
the best teachers in the country has - - effectively been hounded
- - forced
out and forced away.”
(Head-teacher cleared of
slapping 6-year old: The Times, 12 November 2003)
- challenging those in power at length and in depth - - is a
prerequisite in a democratic society - - "
John Humphrys, The Times 22
of power in large institutions and excessive government secrecy are
underlying themes of the paper. For background orientation towards my
argument, I turn usual practice on its head by listing first a few
important references - their full texts are available on request:
Greenblatt, M. (1986)
The use and abuse of power in the administration of systems
Psychiatric Annals ,16, 650-652.
House, Robert J. (1991)
The Distribution and Exercise of Power in Complex Organisations
Leadership Quarterly , 2(1), 23-58.
Openness Denied – Excessive Government Secrecy?
Justice of the Peace , 167/38, 711
reading list at end of this paper; several of my own publications about
the MHRT can be read on the
Society of Clinical Psychiatrists website
- (Points of View:
- - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
exploration has been long in gestation and revision - please forgive
some repetition - its development prompted by thinking about a number of
long delayed eventual reversals of injustices and of criminal
convictions (some of them achieved posthumously, and only after years of
a period of enforced confinement with a broken leg, during which the
bulk of this paper was compiled, I reviewed my own experience in the
dramatic context of the ongoing
Hutton Inquiry, during which
“ - - the inner workings of
the British government were laid bare as seldom before”
THE GUARDIAN September 6, 2003
inquiry secretary had said:
"Lord Hutton wanted every
document entered as evidence and every word put on the website, which,
after six years dealing with freedom of information [at the Home
Office], I thoroughly approve of. We wanted to be as open as possible "
THE TIMES September 9 2003 ).
against that praiseworthy attitude, complaints about undue and excessive
secrecy in government departments hit the media with numbing frequency,
almost daily, especially since the ongoing furore about the War against
Iraq and the rapid constitutional changes being fostered hastily at
parliamentary select committee said yesterday that the “culture of
secrecy” was embedded in the Home Office
- - everything “must be kept
The Times, 7 November 2003
Duplicity, evasions - but no
answers - - When the powerful feel threatened,
there is little they will not do to protect their power - -
Peter Kilfoyle The Guardian, 27 February 2004
provide extensive extracts from correspondence with the former Lord
Chancellor's Department (LCD) - now the Department of Constitutional
Affairs (DCA) - some of the later exchanges by email.
‘caretaker' Lord Chancellor (who had a lot placed on his plate for a
likely brief tenure) disappointingly ignored pleas by the writer's MP
(then a fellow government minister!) to make Dr Woolf 'privy to any
complaints about him' and to review the case in its entirety;
instead in January 2004 he merely endorsed the decision taken by his
predecessor six years before, apparently without having been given by
the civil servants an opportunity to genuinely review a dubious initial
decision, and did so again in 2005 following re-referral by one of his
own civil servants...
Internal evidence indicates strongly that neither of the two Lord
Chancellors was in a position to exercise his trained senior QC mind
upon the actual submissions, and the background to them, before penning
his signature to responses drafted by civil servants unfamiliar with the
practicalities of psychiatric work.
the voluminous correspondence is there any indication that any of the
three Departments involved (Department of Health, Lord Chancellor's
Department and Department of Constitutional Affairs) had sought advice
from an independent consultant psychiatrist, ideally one with experience
in urban city centres, who could have provided perspective on the
difficult realities of the onerous task of making preliminary, community
based, examinations of prospective patients, to help decide whether they
should be admitted under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act for fuller
assessment in hospital.
extracts from the voluminous correspondence which are appended after the
body of this paper are but the tip of an iceberg, held in three thick
lever-arch files and on computer. They are necessarily shortened,
hopefully without distorting their essence – complete copies are
- - - -
- - - - - - -
is extensive documented corroboration and support for the position taken
by the writer, with powerful specialist legal input, although many
relevant organisations have preferred to distance themselves from active
involvement - the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists the most notable
by little it was learned that the GMC has no jurisdiction, nor likely
influence, over the administration of the MHRT (its President declined
to intervene); the Council on Tribunals astonishingly deemed the plight
of tribunal members to be none of their concern. The Royal College of
Psychiatrists decided that a support system for doctors providing
services related to mental health law was desirable, but outside their
Public Concern at Work
whistleblowing charity - explained that the issues do not fall within
their area of expertise, and drew my attention to
The Campaign for Freedom of Information
which campaigns against unnecessary official secrecy....
Representatives of both the Department of Health and of the Lord
Chancellor's Department had over many years invoked the Data
Protection Act to justify their stance, the LCD going to the length
of buttressing non-disclosure by obtaining fresh legal opinion which, in
turn, they refused to disclose, and which subsequently was established
as flawed; the LCD was eventually forced to concede that that Act had
never applied in my case!
victims of this inequity between government and the governed would have
wilted under this heavy weight of assumed and presumed authority. Only
persistent challenge established that it was ill-founded, and recent
scandals have prompted a review of the Data Protection Act.
nearly a decade of strong representations and persistent enquiries, the
LCD & DCA, to their credit, finally confirmed that the correspondence
with their Departments is “not privileged” from publication,
which makes what follows perhaps unique?
admission contrasts starkly with their zealous maintenance even
afterwards of their own discretionary right not to disclose essential
documents and information, held onto with a pertinacity which may
surprise some readers.
Data Protection Act 1998 is truly a rogues' charter. Byzantine and
incomprehensible, even to judges and specialist lawyers, it can
consequently be prayed in aid, however preposterously,
to abet mischief and to excuse failure.”
GODWIN BUSUTTIL (Barrister) The Times: December 24, 2003
law intended to protect privacy is to be reviewed - - John Reid, the
Health Secretary, said a fresh look at the Data Protection Act was
needed - - the Act should not be used to excuse failures on the part of
- - public agencies. Lord Filkin, minister at the Department of
Constitutional Affairs, said that he would consult the Information
Commissioner on whether "more guidance" should be given about the law's
The Independent 24 December 2003
The Truth about Lying:
Collins dictionary gives two definitions:
1) to speak untruthfully with the intent to
mislead or deceive;
and 2) to convey a false impression or practice
- - for most lesser mortals, withholding relevant
information is just as much a lie as is giving false information: a lie
The Guardian, Letters 26 July 2004 )
UNNECESSARY OFFICIAL SECRECY?
had been established that the essential information sought was not
covered by any mandatory regulations, the new Department of
Consitutional Affairs saw fit nonetheless to continue to invoke 'discretionary
powers' to endorse and maintain their non-disclosure stance!
Readers may be mystified that the former LCD, and now the DCA, have both
felt the need to continue to exercise their discretion negatively, by
still refusing to make available any evidence at all upon which
draconian action had been based, and by maintaining unwavering refusal
to review the suspensions and dismissal under the long overdue
complaints procedure which had been brought into existence as a direct
sequel and consequence of my own experience.
powerful government departments involved have felt the need to
strenuously resist legitimate questioning and maintain a climate of
secrecy remains a mystery?
undermines the climate of respectability supposedly achieved for
‘whistle-blower' victims of abuses of power.
SETTING THE SCENE
Two suspensions from the MHRT and, long afterwards, dismissal signed by
the then Lord Chancellor, followed a lengthy period of service (1966
-1998) during which I had been co-founder of the MHRT Members' News
Letter (latterly Members' Journal), an initiative welcomed by the
Department of Health and a publication which went from strength to
a wide experience in many relevant capacities, I was called upon to
lecture on the roles of doctors who are variously required to produce
tribunal reports on their patients, prepare independent reports for
patients' legal representatives, and to sit on the panels as medical
members of the MHRT. I also published on that theme for the Royal
College of Psychiatrists.
to his untimely death I had enjoyed the confidence of the universally
respected solicitor Regional Chairman, the late Mr James Cooke. I
accompanied him to the House of Lords when changes to the Mental Health
Act 1983 were being debated. The co-founder of the MHRT Members'
Newsletter and myself sat on the tribunal panel with Mr Cooke at his
last appearance as President, during which his terminal illness sadly
became manifest. He had been a friend to his legal, medical and lay
Members and, with best endeavour, represented their interests to those
in high places.
changed dramatically in 1994 under the next Regional Chairman, a retired
Crown Court Judge [HP] whose relevant prior experience had been mainly
(perhaps exclusively) presiding over special “strengthened” tribunals
for “restricted” psychiatric patients, those who had been detained in
hospital for treatment, generally without limit of time, and subject to
Home Office control, because of the seriousness of their offences. Their
tribunal applications were invariably prepared thoroughly, with
comprehensive paper work as for a Court, and were heard before panels
presided over by Judges and QCs.
The hearings for “S 2” assessment cases were, necessarily, often very
different from those for the restricted “S 41” patients with which he
had been familiar.
new Regional Chairman [HP] was a “new broom” who, when interviewing
prospective legal presidents, advised them not to be over-influenced by
their medical colleagues, the psychiatrists. His own practice at those
hearings he chaired was, unusually, to take most of the questioning
himself. He actively ‘monitored' tribunal hearings in the Region to an
unprecedented extent, seemingly unaware of the effect of his frequent
appearances, which were frankly oppressive.
as the President of hurriedly convened Section 2 reviews of patients
detained for assessment for up to 28 days, the new Chairman confessed
himself out of his depth in this unfamiliar arena at first, confronted
with often incomplete preparation for those hearings, reports frequently
scanty (sometimes none) and doctors and social workers appearing before
him who might not know the applicants. He was accordingly ill-equipped
to evaluate complaints arising after such hearings.
those complaints, neither made overt during the hearings, and the second
never attributed openly to its source, led to his suspending me twice,
that believed to have been an unique occurrence. In contrast with his
predecessor, he did not seem to embrace a 'duty of care' towards his
members as their representative to officialdom, to balance the
disciplinary role in which he saw himself placed.
Previously, earlier in 1994, I had urged the need for a proper
Complaints Procedure, as was common elsewhere. The Members Newsletter
Board deemed it prudent to explore this obvious need behind the scenes,
rather than by publishing my full proposal.
after the 1997 suspension, about which I lodged a detailed 40 paragraph
formal complaint (assisted by a specialist barrister who became also an
MHRT legal president), and not until after Judge Palmer's appointment as
Regional Chairman had come to an end was I unexpectedly dismissed by the
Lord Chancellor, as a person “unsuitable to continue to act as a
medical member in any Region of the MHRT”, that stemming from Judge
Palmer's much earlier recommendation (I having declined to "resign" as
he had hoped).
Chris Jackson, 56 - - a magistrate from Rugeley, Staffordshire - - said:
“I believe it will have more impact if the Lord Chancellor has to sack
THE TIMES SEPTEMBER 15 2003
Dizaei, PhD in race relations, said after the collapse of his trial:
“ - - I find it astonishing and extraordinary that taxpayers'
hard-earned funds could be abused in this way.”
THE TIMES SEPTEMBER 16 2003
one should be bullied out of a job”
BBC TV 17 Sept 2003
the three disciplinary actions, two suspensions and the ultimate
dismissal, made sense to medical and other colleagues who learned about
them, as is very fully documented elsewhere and was made known to all
paper is an attempt to throw light upon how those suspensions could have
come about and how the totally unexpected dismissal, long afterwards,
was maintained against all the evidence.
Eventually, at my instigation, but too late to help me, my efforts to
right the wrongs bore fruit in a new, and first, MHRT Complaints
Procedure (May 2000) whose unexceptionable aims were summarised in its
The Mental Health Review
Tribunal wishes to encourage
an atmosphere in which complaints are dealt with
in a constructive and helpful manner,
both for the complainant and the person complained
Members, Staff and Chairmen need to know that
sensitive management of complaints
will promote a climate of fairness
amongst the Tribunal membership
and those who have made complaints.
full text of that
Complaints Procedures can be
accessed on the very new MHRT website (October 2004). See [PDF] MINISTRY OF
JUSTICE - MHRT GUIDANCE – MAY 2007
its obviously worthy aims has pertained in my own correspondence with
officials at the Tribunal, the Department of Health, and some other
RETROSPECTIVE AND NON-RETROSPECTIVE
arrangements were introduced with a “non-retrospective”
caveat, which the LCD has never explained and indeed has cited in
support of their refusal to re-examine my case?
has a piquant obverse, turning my penny on its head; the proposal to ban
Peers convicted of serious crime from the House of Lords, announced on
the very day of Lord Geoffrey Archer's return to public life, is drafted
to be retrospective in effect - a provision which has been widely
attacked as possibly in breach of Human Rights.
“Of course it's vindictive - - What worries me very much is its
retrospective nature, and legal experts are already saying it offends
against the Human Rights Act.”
to the Editor: - - to propose retrospective legislation - - to punish
a man for his past crimes is a disgraceful abuse of executive power. - -
JOHN NOTT (Defence
Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights - - prohibits
convictions for “any act or omission, which did not constitute a
criminal offence . . when it was committed” and continues: “Nor shall a
heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time
the criminal offence was committed.” It follows that the Government
cannot strip Jeffrey Archer of his life peerage, or ban him from the
House of Lords.
THE TIMES SEPTEMBER 2003
least, that proposal before the Lords will be subjected to debate!
any comparable opportunity to challenge any of the four successive
‘executive decisions' - I was suspended (twice), excluded from the
Members' Annual Meeting whilst still a medical member of the MHRT, and
later punished and disgraced by dismissal from the MHRT (though not
imprisoned for my alleged peccadilloes) - and imperfect though any
analogy be, I find myself a sympathetic if strange bedfellow of the
1 12 2004 ]: The origin of the crucial "non-retrospective" caveat
has been very belatedly disclosed by MK, the Regional Chairman who
succeded "HP" and fronted the drafting of the Complaints Procedure:
24 11 2004 PGW to MK
Were you present at the meeting when the 'non-retrospective' clause was
discussed? Unfortunately the Society of Clinical Psychiaatrists' offer
to scrutinise the proposals at draft stage was not taken up.
Can you remember how and
why that clause was introduced , leading in turn to everyone's excuse
not to meet me?
26 11 2004 MK to PGW The Complaints
Procedure was drafted by me and two others. We were all categoric that
this was a move forward for the MHRT and was not to be retrospective - -
only future complaints should fall within its remit.
AN ESOTERIC MEDICO-LEGAL BACKWATER
Mental Health Review Tribunal is a specialised, esoteric medico-legal
backwater which operates on the periphery of public awareness, albeit a
bastion for civil liberties of some of the most vulnerable members of
our society; its workings have never attracted media interest.
numerous individual civil servants through whose hands my MHRT papers
passed succeeded each other in rapid and bewildering succession - the
LCD was latterly re-constituted in 2003 as the Department of
Constitutional Affairs (DCA) headed by a new, transitional Lord
those officers, who wield such power behind the scene, has agreed to
meet me, nor to welcome me for discussion with a representative of the
Society of Clinical Psychiatrists. The 'economical', formulaic responses
signed by the former Lord Chancellor and his successsor displayed a
paucity of critical acumen. They compound a relentless, rigid
unwillingness to review patent injustice and abuse of power, which had
been the subject of carefully considered, formal complaint.
avoid this paper becoming even more excessively lengthy, I shall
illustrate my own experience chiefly from correspondence with the Lord
Chancellor's Department (LCD). That correspondence, which has been
confirmed by them to be ‘non-privileged', illustrates graphically
the workings of Government around the turn of the Century.
has been similar evasion and defensiveness in resisting legitimate
enquiries to the MHRT administration and its personell, and to the
Department of Health which oversees its activities. It has been a
frustrating saga of attempts to make personal contact with people and
organizations that might have been expected to provide necessary
information in a spirit of openness and helpfulness, that conspicuous
throughout by its absence.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
complex area has been cited as a chief ‘reason' for my punishments.
merits closer examination, especially in view of the attitudes and
untrammeled practice of the Chairman concerned. Prior to his
appointment, all members were aware of conflict of interest
possibilities, and occasionally acted to disqualify themselves from a
panel, e.g. doctors who had treated the applicant recently, as specified
in the Tribunal Rules. Consultant psychiatrist experts in forensic
practice are well accustomed (as are barristers) to accepting
instructions variously from solicitors acting for plaintiffs and at
other times from those acting for defendants and the prosecution; the
importance of retaining independence, and reporting to the Court, is
well understood (latterly, joint instructions of a single expert have
Regional Chairman took that consideration to an extreme in my case, and
his doing so was the subject of vigorous correspondence in private and
in public. It had become accepted practice that lawyers who regularly
represented MHRT applicants for tribunal hearings should, when appointed
as Legal Members of the MHRT, sit in other Regions, for the
consideration of possible conflicts of interest. That Chairman had taken
upon himself, it emerged, to dictate to the regular legal
representatives of patient applicants in his Region that they were not
to instruct ‘his' members to prepare independent reports for tribunals.
(That was not discussed openly, and only came to light after referrals
for tribunal reports had mysteriously ‘dried up'.)
REGIONAL CHAIRMEN'S ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Meriting deeper consideration are the inbuilt conflicts of interest
appertaining to the Regional Chairmen themselves. These had, so I
understand, not come to the fore elsewhere or previously; commonsense
used to prevail.
Regional Chair appointments carried multiple roles and responsibilities.
The chairmen were responsible for appointing for each hearing a panel of
three members, a legal president, a medical member and a lay member.
That task is normally delegated to office staff (there were rumblings
sometimes about inequable allocation of bookings).
Chairman would, from time to time, appoint himself as President of a
tribunal, in that role becoming one of three equal decision makers.
The chairmen were also expected to ‘monitor' the performance of members
and of hearings, and entitled to sit in upon the panels' private
deliberations to reach Decisions. In earlier experience, that was done
occasionally and with a light touch; it became notoriously different
under the new Chairman in my Region [HP].
the Chairman's role was crucial in recommending, or not, reappointment
of tribunal members after a specified term of office.
it to say that such a rich brew of potential conflicts of interests
carries a particular hazard in situations of personality clash, which
are inescapable in complex organizations. The niceties of preliminary
examinations by medical members, and the issue of a member's possible
previous contact with an applicant (of which it was alleged I had fallen
foul) pales by comparison with the risks of conflicts of interest that
confront regional chairmen themselves! Maybe a Chairman with such strong
and rigid views as [HP] ought to disqualify himself from presiding at
hearings in his own Region?
reflecting upon the thorny topic of conflicts of interests in the MHRT,
a noteworthy legal opinion has been received from Anthony Bingham, a
barrister active in the field.
He suggested that it may be:
- - unlawful to discipline an d punish tribunal members - - a tribunal,
which decides people's civil rights, may not be independent and
impartial if the tribunal can be subjected to punishment - - if - - a
complaints system - - can lead to punishment, ridicule or contempt,
decisions may be made to avoid complaints. - - - - the tribunal shall be
“guaranteed free from outside pressure” ( Findlay v. UK ).
You are not so guaranteed if I can bring a complaint and put your
reputation in jeopardy, or at least cause you a great deal of grief even
if my complaint is not made out - - . what is the effect on a man's mind
(the tribunal's mind) knowing that a complaint about (say) unfairness,
tardiness, ineffectiveness or lack of competence can arise and thus give
rise to loss of reputation (at least) and punishment?
If - - there is a mere possibility that the person may develop some
self-interest/self-protection - - the tribunal is no longer impartil and
the influence of the disciplinary proceedings is unlawful.
quoting the correspondence in detail I must indicate another reason why,
for the record, this paper on the WWW is necessary.
number of previous submissions for publication, some of them invited
after an initial show of interest, failed to reach the press, or did so
in an emasculated form, personal aspects of the problems having been
editorially diluted or deleted.
“scientific” journals demanded wider surveys with statistics, which were
not readily available. I had noted a change over several decades past in
that single case studies – here, my own case - had become suspect, and
were rejected under the more rigorous requirements of scientific
Three of my single case studies were eventually published by the Society
of Clinical Psychiatrists, which takes an independent stance, and is
renowned for its unswerving support of wrongly suspended doctors,
individually, and through persistent media exposure of the problem.
than once has rejection of texts been explained as because the material
was “too personal”. Legal sections of the broadsheet press
expressed interest, but this lapsed, doubtless because the topic was
considered too marginal for their readerships.
the internet offered scope for a full examination of the issues.
DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE - AN IRREVERSIBLE MACHINE
of the correspondence appended to my discussion of the background may
lead readers to wonder why the draconian punishments of suspension
(effectively dismissal in the particular circumstances) were applied,
endorsed by the LCD and relentlessly maintained against all reason?
Bush] should also drop the administration's " never apologise, never
explain " approach to policy.
A blunt acknowledgement that it has made mistakes would help improve its
Financial Times 13 September 2003
already over 70 when dismissed ignominiously, serving in discretionary
‘overtime' (because of the shortage of experienced medical members,
extensions of appointment beyond the retiring age of 70 had become
necessary to keep the system going). ‘Non-renewal', with the customary
letter of thanks for long service, might have been more appropriate than
dismissal, and would have saved the LCD the hassle of trying to defend
the indefensible during the subsequent years, not to speak of a large
expenditure of public money.
- - A health minister blames
a suspended doctor's personal media campaign for the two-and-a-half-year
delay - his supporters maintain he was targeted because he blew the
whistle - the cost of the suspension
had reached over £500,000 - the disciplinary panel
is not due to meet until January 2005.
Hospital Doctor 5 August 2004
hypothesise that experienced civil servants in the government
departments (one rarely knows their level of seniority and relevant
experience, if any) are blinkered and trapped by working in an
institutionally rigid and inflexible environment, without easy access to
relevant advice, in this instance from fellow consultant psychiatrists
familiar with the actualities of domiciliary assessments and S2 tribunal
hearings in city centres.
also be fairly said that the wordings of the Lord Chancellor's crucial
endorsement of the ‘incorrect' de-facto dismissal by [HP], one of his
Judges, and of his repeated reiterations that he stood by it, do not
carry conviction that the drafts had been thought through thoroughly
before being signed by an eminent QC elevated to one of the highest
offices in the realm.
* * * *
* * *
EXTRACTS FROM CORRESPONDENCE
DH (Department of Health)
Mary Kane (MK)
Zena Muth (ZM)
Margaret Burn (MB)
Henry Palmer (HP R/Ch)
Jeremy Cooper (JC)
LCD (LORD CHANCELLOR'S
Helen Baker (HARB)
Nigel Osner (NRO)
Mary Burton (MB)
J Silvester (JS)
Geoff Hiden (GH)
Kathleen Turner (KT)
Jane Kennedy (JK)
Philip Hales (PH)
Lord Irvine of Lairg, Lord Chancellor
later DCA (Department of Constitutional Affairs)
Philip Hales (PLH)
Kerry Lynch (KL)
Jason Yaxley (JY)
Ray Sams (RS)
Janet Taitt (JT)
Lord Charles Falconer of Thoroton, Lord Chancellor
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff (LS-M)
Kris Gledhill (KG)
Anthony Bingham (AB)
1997 HP to PGW
- - let me know whether it is your intention to relinquish your
appointment - - if your service has already been terminated by effluxion
of time, there will be no need for me to write to the Lord Chancellor's
Department - -
1997 PGW to HP
- - I have not relinquished my appointment neither have I "resigned" - -
nor has my appointment been terminated by "effluxion of time".
97 PGW to KG ( LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT Selbourne House)
I hope to have your interim response to my submissions of 25 September
shortly - - I am anxious to know whether the need which I have
identified, to formulate a complaints procedure to protect MHRT members,
has now been recognized - - so that experiences such as mine could not
16 3 98
HARB to PGW
I am sorry for some delay whilst two branches of this office have been
dealing with your appointment and your complaint - - We are seeking
comments - - so that the Lord Chancellor can give proper consideration
to your complaint (of 25 Sept 1997)
26 3 98
PGW to CL, MHRT (c to HARB, LCD)
Request for papers for MHRT Members Annual Meeting Apr 1998
– “lest there be any misunderstanding, I have neither resigned nor have
I been sacked by the Ld Ch”
1998 HARB (Judicial Appointments Division 2) to PGW
- - I can confirm that the letter of complaint dated 25 September 1997
has now been sent to the Judge for his comments - - The Lord Chancellor
- - wishes to reply to you personally - - I sense your impatience at the
slow rate with which this has progressed - - I head the branch
responsible for complaints-handling, and will have carriage of the
matter in future.
have asked for a statement of 'allegations' against you. I do
not have a document that might be described as a 'charge sheet' setting
these out. - - I do have correspondence - - which indicate the
reasons for his instruction that you should not sit as a member of the
Mental Health Review Tribunals in the South Thames Region followed your
failure to act upon an alleged conflict of interest at a tribunal
hearing on 6 May 1997. - - Your reply of 25 May did not persuade him
that you had either recognised or taken sufficient steps to avoid a
potential conflict of interest. - - I have written to [Judge Palmer] to
seek, on the Lord Chancellor's behalf, his reaction to your amended
letter of 25 September, and to clarify his understanding of your
position, and his powers as Regional Chairman.
write to you again - - to let you know what the next steps will be. - -
April 1998 PGW to HARB
- - I apologise for having pressed you so about this matter which has
dragged on for nearly a year in all. - - I confirm that - - I wrote to
(HP) July 1997 correcting his misapprehension, confirming that I had not
"resigned" nor intended to do so, neither had my service been terminated
by " effluxion of time" as he thought possible [which would have spared
him the "necessity" to report me to the Lord Chancellor !]. - -
today received from (HP) - - " there seems little point in your
attending my members' meeting ", (this in response to my request to the
MHRT for the Agenda and discussion papers for the forthcoming meeting on
you for confirming that there is no hidden " charge sheet " . I
note also that your papers do not include statements from relevant
individuals present at either of the contentious tribunal hearings.
- - I look forward to having an opportunity to see and comment upon (HP's)
reaction to my complaint in due course, and to study his clarification
to you of his own understanding of my position and of his powers as
Regional Chairman. - -
1998 PGW to ZM (Head of Mental Health Review Tribunal Secretariat, Dept
- - As you know, I decided that I would not be prepared to sit on a
further MHT panel in S. Thames under the then Chairman [who had
suspended me twice]- - no substantive complaints against me have
emerged throughout a whole year - - Will you please arrange that I
am restored to the rota - - I would hope to meet the new Chair in due
1998 ZM to PGW
- - If the Lord Chancellor's Department is able to confirm that you
remain a member of the MHRT then I see no reason why you should not
1998 PGW to ZM
- - I confirm, once again, that I do remain a member of the MHRT and,
indeed, that I am sitting in North Thames.
ZM to PGW
- - since my letter of 4 June I have been advised that until the matter
of disagreement between yourself and P remains under consideration by
the Lord Chancellor we may not invite you to sit as a member of the
Mental Health Review Tribunal in any region. (i.e. suspension extended
to all regions!) I apologise for misleading you.
July 1998 PGW to NRO (LCD)
Re: Dismissal from the MHRT - - I thank you for indicating that
the papers on my complaint of 25th September 1997 had already been
passed over to Lord Irvine, so that you were unable to let me see and
comment upon (HP's) letters, and such documents as he may have appended
to support his justification for his actions in 1994 and 1997.
acknowledge having now received on return from holiday the Lord
Chancellor's Decision that I may not continue to sit in any Region.
Decision is subject to Appeal, would you please let me know the correct
1998 NRO to PGW
DISMISSAL FROM THE MHRT
The decision of the Lord Chancellor is not subject to appeal .
October 1998 JS (LCD) to PGW
This is just to acknowledge your letter of 24 September 1998 . A
substantive reply will be forthcoming in due course.
October 1998 PGW to JS
Re: Suspensions and Dismissal from the MHRT
you for letting me know that you have my complaint and enquiries in hand
for a substantive reply in due course, following my protracted and
frustrating, mainly one-sided correspondence with a multitude of your
colleagues - - .
of course, never receive any substantive reply to my complaints and
proposals . Lord Irvine's letter eventually dealt with HP's letters of
complaint about me (though not before the Judge himself had complained
about the delay). I was never allowed to see the letters about myself,
although I had warned repeatedly of possible inaccuracies and
distortions in them. He endorsed (HP's) reasoning and actions
retrospectively, and also refuted the legal basis of my submissions in a
manner which has left me unconvinced.
However, in my lengthy response of 27th July I pointed your department
back towards my belief that many central concerns had not been addressed
. (RNO) had nothing to add.
enclose now for easier reference a further copy of that response with
outstanding, unaddressed key points highlighted - - I enclose also a
discussion paper from 1994 with draft proposals for a more effective and
safer way of organising communications and dealing with problems within
- - the
Newsletter board (which included (another) regional chairman - - took
the view collectively that progress on those lines would better be
pursued at that time by negotiation "behind the scenes", rather than
through publication. With hindsight, that appears to have been a
you may find it of interest, and as supporting - - my serious concern
for the well being of the MHRT and my "consistent and active
contribution - - which had greatly enhanced Editorial Board discussions"
(Howell, Members' News Sheet Editorial, Sept 1997).
believe that I was quite the wrong member to have been dismissed by the
Lord Chancellor (the first probably to suffer in this way in the South
England Regions in recent years ?) and this is an opinion widely shared
amongst the membership. - -
October 1998 JS to PGW
Your letter of 24 September, addressed to (Mr NRO) has been transferred
to me for reply.
tell you that on occasions it is possible to judicially review the
decisions of Ministers. - - no separate cumulative records have ever
been kept of suspensions or dismissals in the Mental Health Review
Tribunal. This applies equally to other Tribunals for which the Lord
Chancellor is responsible. The relevant correspondence is of course
retained on the file of the individual in question.
- - The
Lord Chancellor has recently created new posts of Regional Chairman to
the Mental Health Review Tribunal. Consideration of any formal grievance
procedure will lie with those who now fill those posts, in consultation
with the Department of Health and this Department as appropriate.
November 1998 PGW to JS
- - you will not need me to tell you that the costs of pursuing a
Judicial Review are not affordable by a private individual with limited
resources such as myself, and that legal aid is not available to right
wrongs of such a nature as I have suffered. It ought not to need that
sledge-hammer to crack this particular nut! I have not found any
colleagues to agree with (the Judge's) actions, nor that your eventual
endorsement of them was reasonable. With any sensible mechanism in
place, it could not have gone so far, nor ended in that way.
- - you
will recall that [HP] ignored your Department's invitation to retum his
comments upon my representations, prior to the Lord Chancellor's
determination of the matter in dispute.
enclose for your interest a letter accepted by the Royal College of
Psychiatrists, for publication - - . My own continued constructive
interest in the MHRT is widely appreciated, despite my exclusion - -
from active involvement - - and eventually by the Lord Chancellor for
been invited to (another) Region's annual members' party next month, and
last week I was invited by one of London 's teaching hospitals to
lecture about the MHRT!
remind you that in my original complaint of 25 9 1997 (paragraphs 6 & 7)
I had decided (contrary to advice) that I preferred to raise my concerns
in a manner which would lead to constructive change, rather than in
court where your Department might be tempted to go on the defensive
... I wonder whether the course which has in fact been taken in response
to my complaint is not beginning to cause just a little regret, and
maybe even some embarrassment, in Selbourne House?
of course had no substantive reply, despite several promises .
Nor have I had any intimation that it is intended to institute formal
measures which would render an experience such as mine improbable in the
future. Are you able, and willing, to confirm whether my proposals for a
formal complaints procedure will be put forward now for consideration by
the four newly appointed and reappointed Regional Chairmen at their
November 1998 JS to PGW
I am now able to respond substantively - - I apologise for the delay in
October communication included an annotated copy of your letter of the
25 September 1997 . I have shown this to [Mr NRO], who has nothing to
add to his original correspondence. - - The contents of your November
letter are noted, and that you prefer to raise your concerns in a manner
which would lead to constructive change. - - the new Regional Chairmen
are considering in conjunction with Department of Health and Lord
Chancellor's officials whether some internal procedures relating to
complaints by members need to be established - - I anticipate that views
will have been taken and discussed by the Spring of next year.
December 1998 PGW to JS
- - your latest letter (19 November) falls far short of a truly
"substantive reply", and you have missed the most essential point yet
again! This may be because [Mr NRO] (whom you quote) and your numerous
colleagues have all avoided risking engagement in genuine discussion
time and again.
problem is that members are vulnerable to complaints and that there is
no proper complaints procedure to deal with complaints about them.
(There is the additional injustice that when the Lord Chancellor might,
acting upon advice, get it dreadfully wrong, as in my case, there is no
realistic, affordable remedy.)
pleased to learn that I have got through to you, at least to the extent
that some of the problems I have aired since 1994 will now get serious
discussion in 1999, at very long last. I hope I may be told the eventual
outcome? Perhaps then I might receive also the usual letter of thanks
for long, loyal and diligent service, as enjoyed by retiring tribunal
members in the past?
January - July 1999 excerpts from correspondence between PGW & MK with a
belated clarification in November 2004
These excerpts are included for context and interposed together here for
19 1 99 PGW to MK (Regional Chair, MHRT Southern Region, successor to
HP) Thank you for kindly phoning to discuss how you might be able to
help, asking if I would like to be reinstated - - I think it exceedingly
unlikely that the Lord Chancellor's officers would backtrack now, having
entrenched themselves in their position
12 2 99 MK to PGW - - I have looked into the matter with great interest
- - [including] the file of documents - - passed to me when I took over
the Regional Chairmanship. Unfortunately - - the decision to reinstate
is for the Lord Chancellor alone - - Whilst you could make the offer of
a meeting to the Lord Chancellor's Department, I understand that
whatever their view is, it is the Lord Chancellor himself who will not
reopen the matter.- - I have raised [the lack of any formal complaints
procedure] and can see no reason why one should not be set up in the
MHRT - - I would urge you to let the matter drop now.
last is one of several kindly recommendations received, urging that I
would be best advised to 'put it behind' me and 'get on with a life'!
That I have done so, whilst continuing to pursue this complaint also,
will be apparent to observant readers who may have noticed that I have
a music journal , the second of two
music websites which I founded since retirement from the NHS, maintained
as a fulfilling hobby after losing my main medical employment associated
with membership of the MHRT.
2 3 99 PGW to MK I am grateful for your pro-active approach - - [does]
my file which HP passed on to you remain privileged? If not so, may I
make formal application to see its contents - -
11 3 99 MK to PGW - - I do consider the file privileged and I am not
prepared to allow anyone to see it
19 6 99 MK to PGW - - for my region it is time to call an end to it - -
our complaints procedure is now in place - - your input to this was of
course much valued
23 7 99 PGW to MK I am now making a formal application herewith for an
opportunity to peruse the Regional Chairmen's file about myself, likely
to contain copies of any evidence upon which my suspensions, followed by
unexpected dismissal, might reasonably have been based. I need to review
their adequacy or not. Maybe there is none! - - there would seem to be
no sufficient justification for your retaining control of my personal
MHRT file without reasonable access, and indeed little point in keeping
a file which nobody is allowed to see!
(this was unanswered)
24 11 2004 PGW to MK Were you present at the meeting when the
'non-retrospective' clause was discussed? Unfortunately the Society of
Clinical Psychiatry's offer to scrutinise the proposals at draft stage
was not taken up
. Can you remember how and why that clause was introduced , leading in
turn to everyone's excuse not to meet me?
26 11 2004 MK to PGW The Complaints Procedure was drafted by me
and two others. We were all categoric that this was a move forward for
the MHRT and was not to be retrospective - - only future complaints
should fall within its remit.
February 1999 PGW to JS
- - can you please confirm now that your deliberations will include
consideration of the absence of any proper complaints procedure to deal
with complaints about MHRT members? That glaring lack, compounded by the
fact that there is no affordable appeal against ministerial decisions,
astonishes professional and lay people who come to know what happened to
- - be given the details of any complaints procedure proposed and - -
finally accepted, please? (There are others too, members present and
past, who might welcome an opportunity to comment.)
have kindly confirmed the lack of statistics about suspensions and
dismissals in your department. The DoH's position is similar - - because
instances of suspension (and of the suspected practice of "not using"
certain members) are not necessarily brought to central attention. - -
can you confirm whether the present non-existence of any proper
complaints procedures to protect MHRT members at either level,
regionally or centrally, applies equally to the other tribunals, and
also to "other judicial appointments" for which the Lord Chancellor is
mention also that I have a letter about the MHRT in the January Bulletin
of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and a fuller article to be
printed shortly. You may well find that these do not square well with a
doctor deemed unfit to be a MHRT medical member, as I have been dubbed
after so many years service, with such very damaging consequences?
- - I
have found myself fantasising recently an improbable scenario in which
you were advising that I should be reinstated (you had done so
inadvertently in July - - !) for a second time, to the new Region now
under [new] regional chairmanship, until my natural retirement later
this year. That was what [ZM] of the DoH and I had anticipated, until
shortly before the quite unexpected letters from your department- -
such reinstatement possible, it might demonstrate a human face in your
bureaucracy, and restore some belief that our fragile democracy is still
concerned with natural justice and due process, in the context of
tribunals, which operate justice with transparency, with openly
disclosed evidence and 'reasons for reasons' of all decisions.
previously provided you with a copy of Dr DW's letter - - on those
issues - - which accords with those of numerous medical colleagues and
former MHT colleagues from whom I was so suddenly and unreasonably cut
wonder whether a sensible way forward now might be for you to
consider offering a meeting with yourself and, say, NRO (the one who
never has anything to add!), to include also MB of the DoH - - (In the
past I have found, in respect of my hospital patients subject to
Restriction Orders, that face to face discussion with Home Office
officials has resolved difficulties quickly, after protracted
correspondence at seeming cross purposes.) - -
2/3/1999 (PT SCP to The Lord Chancellor)
Re: Abuse of Human rights within the Tribunal system:
- - our organisation is deeply concerned about the injustices and abuse
of human rights suffered by doctors within the National Health Service.
- - It was some dismay to discover that doctors appointed to Mental
Health Tribunals, under your jurisdiction, and paid by the Department of
Health, can be effectively dismissed and lose their livelihoods as a
consequence upon the say so of a lawyer regional chairman who may be a
judge, but who is not their employer. This can occur without there being
a fair hearing before an independent tribunal. Indeed there appears to
be no formal disciplinary or grievance procedure for doctors serving on
these Mental Health Review Tribunals. This would seem to be a breach of
the doctor's human rights. At worst this could enable any regional
chairman to get rid of any tribunal panel member for whatsoever reason
without being accountable and so fill the panel with his place men. This
cannot be good for justice
in mind Dr. Peter Woolf who was suspended twice on the say so of the
regional chairman, barred from taking part in tribunals (and thereby
losing his public service income) and after protracted correspondence
was finally dismissed following the judge/chairman's belief that the
doctor has committed a serious misdemeanour - - this so called serious
misdemeanour was that the doctor had failed to recognise an appellant
before him at a tribunal as a person with whom he had once had
professional contact in the past. This appears to have been brought to
the attention of the judge/regional chairman and appears to have annoyed
him and perhaps he allowed his own disturbed emotions to influence him.
doctor was suspended forthwith and eventually dismissed. Thus the
doctor's professional reputation has been destroyed and his livelihood
as a part time tribunal member gone, all at the whim of that judge.
There seems to be no formal method of appeal tribunal. This seems hardly
right. - -
Personality disorders are
prerequisites for power
(Dr Thomas Stuttaford,
The Times )
1999 GH to PGW Selbome House
[Mr JS] is no longer in this Division and I am currently dealing with
his work. I will let you have a substantive reply as soon as possible.
GH District Bench and Tribunals Division
April 1999 GH to PGW
I am sorry that I have not yet been able to let you have a substantive
reply. The delay is due to a number of factors, chief being the pressure
of other work and staff shortages. I apologise for any inconvenience
this delay may be causing you. - -
April 99 PGW to GH
- - it is encouraging, in view of the pervasive secrecy which has
blighted this protracted affair, to note that your new website address
is "Open Government" !
MHRT Regional Chairman - - too feels bound by the secrecy which has
bedevilled this affair throughout. and she is not prepared to release to
me a sight of what has been written about me in the file which she now
holds as repeatedly requested in the past - - I have now published my
own substantive views about the MHRT, in a paper which was circulated
widely in draft and to your own department - - I had hoped for
constructive comments in response. - - I hope you may find the last few
pages of it relevant and interesting. - - I am bewildered that tribunal
members do not have any protection comparable to that enjoyed by
Substantive responses have been promised by your colleagues repeatedly
but oft delayed and never satisfactory. I hope that you will now be
reviewing the whole thing very seriously despite your staff shortages -
- . With so many changes of signatory during our correspondence with
your Department, it must be hard for anyone to take a broad view. - -
13 5 99
PGW to GH
I have to deplore the long delayed, often evasive and usually
unsatisfactory responses by all concerned - - It is regrettable that
because of this frustration I have needed to bring into the discussions
my MP, the BMA, the Council on Tribunals, the Royal College of
Psychiatrists, and the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists, my own
concerns as an individual having been brushed aside - -. I appreciate
that staff shortages, and frequent movement of staff off the case, one
after another, have been relevant factors, so that no-one has been able
to take a leisurely and broad view of it all. I have more than once
suggested that you consulted an outside independent expert.
that your promised 'substantive response' - - is likely, at the end of
the day, to prove no more than a damage limitation exercise. I was
warned that - - the civil service would be unlikely not to have backed
the regional chairman and that no amount of pleading would be likely to
divert the chain of consequences - - and that the view of my regional
chairman was bound to prevail. Also, from 1994 onwards that I should be
patient because movement was afoot behind the scenes! - - - the passage
of time has played its part and, at 72, I know now that no practical
solution to right this great wrong - - could happen. - -
consolation is that I have reason to think that my persistence in
publicizing the problems - - has, five years on, led to some positive
action, with the new S Thames chairman being commendably pro-active.
1999 PGW to GH
- - Despite your staff shortages and pressure of other work which you
have explained, perhaps you should now consider prioritising this
1999 GH to PGW
- - the matter of internal procedures within the MHRT relating to
complaints by members has not yet featured in meetings between the
Regional Chairmen, the Department of Health and the Lord Chancellor's
officials. - - As soon as I have something - - concerning the matter of
complaints handling within the MHRT I will be in a position to let you
have your long awaited substantive reply.
appreciate that you have been extremely patient in your wait - - I can
only apologise again for the delay, which I recognise is not
satisfactory, and reiterate the fact that I will endeavour to let you
have a substantive reply to your correspondence as soon as possible. - -
23 7 99 PGW to GH
- - I note with regret that correspondence has gone missing within your
department, not for the first time! - - thank you for - - explaining
that additional difficulty. You now have my several published papers
dealing with this regrettable matter. - - I am sure you will want to
study them before completing your considered reply.
LONDON SWIE 6QW
16 June 2000 DAVID LOCK MP Parliamentary Secretary to Nick Raynsford
- - The
Mental Health Review Tribunal did not have a complaints procedure prior
to the appointment of the Regional Chairmen. In our letter to you of 28
September 1999 Mr Hiden mentioned that a formal complaints procedure had
been developed and was in draft form. I am pleased to say that the
Secretary of the Mental Health Review Tribunal has confirmed that it has
now been adopted and I enclose copies for you and Dr Woolf. It will not,
however, apply retrospectively. - -
2000 NR to PGW
The Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP Minister of State Local Government
and the Regions
- - I attach a copy of the response I have received from the Lord
Chancellor's Department. Whilst changes have been made to the system to
allow appeals, these cannot be applied retrospectively and therefore
your case cannot proceed, I regret, down that route. - -
October 2000 Copy letter JK (Parliamentary Secretary, LCD) to NR (MP),
c. to PGW & SCP
- - Dr Tomlin of the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists - - raises
concerns about the termination of Dr Woolf's appointment as a medical
member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT).
Tomlin might be reassured to know that, although they do not apply
retrospectively , the Lord Chancellor recently introduced new
arrangements to secure the tenure of part-time tribunal members
including doctors. Under these arrangements - - no part-time tribunal
member, who continues to meet the qualification for appointment, can be
removed or their appointment not renewed without the concurrence of the
Lord Chief Justice - -
2002 PGW to the Lord Chancellor
SUSPENSIONS AND DISMISSAL FROM THE MENTAL HEALTH REVIEW TRIBUNAL
in good health and away from home to celebrate my 75th birthday, my
stocktaking review of an active professional life at this juncture has
included reminding myself of my treatment at the hands of [the Regional
Chairman] and your own, and the fruitless efforts to obtain just redress
via the many government officials of your and other Departments, with
whom there has been unproductive and (to date) abortive correspondence,
and refusals to meet with me. That despite - - numerous promises of full
consideration - - of the carefully reasoned complaints about my
am writing once more at this moment will, I trust, persuade you that I
take this matter very seriously indeed and trust that you will also do
whilst abroad and without my strangely one-sided correspondence file
before me - - Perhaps I should have taken fuller account of the opinion
- - that it was inconceivable that the Lord Chancellor would not support
one of his Judges, - -who assumed incorrectly, and sought my
reassurance, that I had resigned from the MHRT, which he indicated would
have 'saved' him from lodging his complaints (whatever they were) about
me. I made clear that I would not do so, but would not wish to sit again
under his personal jurisdiction.
lodged my own very detailed complaint - - supported by expert lawyers in
the field - - acting on the lawyers' advice, I relied upon my own direct
approaches to the Department of Health and the Lord Chancellor, with
additional support from my MP and the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists
(March 1999). Two letters from the Society both remained unacknowledged.
How can that be justified or condoned?
summarise my position, I was suspended twice without due cause, and
without sight of any supportive evidence to warrant such action on
either occasion, despite repeated requests to be given an opportunity to
study and answer any allegations against me. I have been denied by [HP's]
successor a sight of my own MHRT file - - and she has also declined to
meet me - -
The Department of Health administrator too had seen no likely objection
to my resuming sitting as a Medical Member of the MHRT, and I did indeed
resume doing so in the adjacent - - Region, with the full knowledge and
support of the Regional Chairman responsible, who had made
representations on my behalf previously.
The Dismissal when it came was a totally unexpected hammer blow, and the
reasoning of the letter which the Lord Chancellor had signed was deeply
further detailed response was accordingly lodged and a full response to
that promised, but never received, which was the pattern throughout.
Many communications went astray and there had been numerous changes of
personnel responsible for dealing with the matter.
- - Due
only to my persistence, a complaints procedure was instituted but,
presumably for fear of opening 'flood gates', its review terms were made
non-retrospective. I have challenged that, on the grounds that I have
reason to believe that there is no cause to fear an unwieldy number of
retrospective complaints; most probably, there would be none other.
never seen any evidence upon which suspension twice, or dismissal, could
have been reasonably based. - - I have not seen by what authority (or
reasonable necessity) I have not been allowed to see the file under my
name held by the MHRT, which might clarify the 'other matters' mentioned
in the Lord Chancellor's dismissal letter. Because of the lack of
openness throughout, I have been impelled to publish about my experience
of the MHRT and my difficulties - - this matter has blighted my
professional and personal life in these latter years. I was driven to
resort to publication of my experience (copies were supplied to your
department) in the face of the obstructions and refusals of meetings
with which my requests were met
I write once again to request a proper independent review of my
dismissal and trust that the matter will be taken seriously,
notwithstanding the pressures of work upon the Lord Chancellor's
Department - -
April 2002 MTH (Chairman, SCP) to The Lord Chancellor
received a copy of Dr Peter Grahame Woolf's latest letter to you - - It
is both sad and disquieting to read, again, his account of his two
'suspensions' from Mental Health Review Tribunal (MHRT) - - sad that a
distinguished medical Member who has given so much of himself to the
MHRT body since 1966 should depart from office in this way; disquieting
because the prima facie case has clearly placed Dr Woolf on the moral
Tribunals, not just those associated with mental illness, understandably
operate with a degree of justice and transparency, almost, it could be
said, as their raison d'etre, It is therefore so much more surprising
that what appears to have happened to Dr Woolf goes so contrary to the
very spirit of tribunals in their attempts to redress openly and fairly
whatsoever alleged mistreatment/grievance has occurred.
Dr Woolf has chosen so frankly, and it appears understandably, to seek
clarification of the reasons for his dismissal it seems only fair and
courteous, in view of his perceived sense of hurt and his long and
faithful service to the Mental Health Review Tribunal; that his request
for sight of written reasons be met in the interest of what legal
colleagues might describe as natural justice, due process and rules of
evidence. As before we support him most strongly in his request and
await your comments with interest.
2002 KT to PGW
like to first apologise for any delays that have occurred - - we aim to
give you a response by the middle of May. - - we are indeed taking this
matter very seriously and giving it our full consideration.
again may I offer you my sincere apologies for the delay.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE LORD IRVINE OF LAIRG
7 June 2002 Lord Chancellor to PGW
I have read your latest correspondence and note your request for an
independent review of your dismissal from the MHRT. My letter to you of
27 June 1998 , terminating your appointment as a Medical Member of the
MHRT, fully set out the background and reasons for your dismissal. - - I
am afraid there is nothing further that I can usefully comment on.
Therefore, I see no justification for re-opening this matter. - -
(signed) Irvine of Lang,
16 August 2002 KT to PGW Selbome House 54-60 Victoria Street
- - I apologise that it has not been possible to reply to you sooner.
You feel that the Lord Chancellor's letter to you dated 7 June 2002 was
an inadequate response to the several main points of your
representations. In his reply the Lord Chancellor stated that he had
read your latest correspondence and noted your request for an
independent review of your dismissal ITom the MHRT. He concluded by
saying that there was nothing he could usefully comment on and stated
that he saw no justification for re-opening the matter.
considered your latest correspondence I am afraid that there is little I
can add to the Lord Chancellor's reply. - - so far as asking how many
complaints have been - - made against medical members of the MHRT we do
not hold such records here. That would be a matter for the MHRT. Also,
you mention that you have not seen`:
"by what authority (or reasonable necessity) I have not been allowed to
see the file under my name held by the MHRT". Again, this would be a
matter for the MHRT to answer, not the Lord Chancellor's Department.
Accordingly, I have copied this reply to [MB] at the MHRT - - to reply
to you direct on these two points.
November 2002 MTH to The Lord Chancellor
You may recall my writing to you to thank you for the courtesy of your
reply dated 12th June, 2002 . During the interim the Society has
carefully considered its content. You mention, inter alia, the
introduction of new arrangements to secure tenure of part-time tribunal
members, including doctors.
perhaps worth pointing out that this move, which led to the inception of
a formal complaints procedure for Mental Health Review Tribunal members
(5th June 2002), was primarily provoked by Dr Woolf's seeking redress in
his particular predicament.
however, it remains the Society's conclusion that an evaluation of
evidence conducted fairly and openly has been denied Dr Woolf and,
because of this, his professional work record (we refer to that with the
Mental Health Review Tribunal and to which he contributed so
significantly over three decades) remains in his view, and in our own,
unjustly tarnished at the whim of its then chairman.
sadness relates not only to Dr Woolf's personal plight but also to the
fact that your Office - -feels unable to grant him a formal hearing
relating to his claim of unfair dismissal. This occurred within one of
your own Office's departments (Mental Health Review Tribunal) which was
regrettably deficient in what was even then already well established
unfair dismissal legislation. Urging Dr Woolf to seek legal advice to
pursue his claim (a potentially heavy expenditure at his advanced age)
sits oddly, we submit, with the circumstance of his case involving as it
does, one of the Lord Chancellor's departments.
still hope you will see your way to a reconsideration of his case.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE LORD IRVINE OF LAIRG
25 January 2003 I of L to Dr M T Haslam, Chairman Society. of Clinical
- - You have again requested that I reconsider this matter - - I took
the decision to terminate Dr Woolf's appointment as a Medical Member of
the MHRT having carefully considered all the relevant issues. I can only
reiterate that I see no justification for re-opening the matter.
Dr Woolf is currently engaged in correspondence - - concerning the
possible disclosure of information relating to his case. Whatever the
outcome of the decision on disclosure I would still urge Dr Woolf to
seek legal advice should he wish to pursue this matter.
(Signed) Irvine of Lang
February 2003 KT to PGW
- - we have had to consider the legal implications of your request for
disclosure, and put the matter to the Lord Chancellor for his views. He
has asked me to reply on his behalf - - Our view is that any request for
personal information by you should be considered under the Data
Protection Act 1998 . Under paragraph 4 of Schedule 7 - - data processed
for the purposes of assessing any person's suitability for employment by
or under the Crown, or any office which appointments are made by a
Minister of the Crown, are exempt from disclosure. The Department is
therefore not prepared to release documents relating to your dismissal
to you .
Lord Chancellor has asked me to say that, although he understands that
you continue to be concerned about what happened, - - there is no
Justification for reopening the decision.
2003 SCP (DW) to The Lord Chancellor
The Society - - felt encouraged to appeal further to you on behalf of Dr
Woolf because your thoughtful letter - - suggests that you consider
there is indeed a legal case to be pursued; that Dr Woolf is not a mere
certainly believe that he has a case and we have been disappointed that
correspondence between Dr Woolf and your officials in his seeking basic
openness has been characterised by prevarications, albeit polite, and
delays (now totalling some seven years). Rather bafflingly, it now
appears that Dr Woolf has established (12 th September 2002) that Mental
Health Review Tribunals personal files maintained by the Department of
Health in their MHRT office (and not available to their subjects) do not
contain any documents relating to any complaints about him whether in
1994 or 1997. Given the apparent circumstances of this case, it truly
appears that “Kafkaesque” is not hyperbole in this whole sad business.
general, Society members in their functioning as doctors, are regularly
(and correctly) reminded by our lawyer colleagues about natural justice,
rules of evidence and due legal process; the importance of reasons for
their opinions and decisions. Much to our surprise and dismay all of
these pillars of our justice system seem to have been overlooked in this
of your urging Dr Woolf to seek legal advice we feel we must once more
appeal to your good offices, as Lord Chancellor, to help restore the
good standing of this wronged man in this matter.
2003 KT to PGW
- - You will appreciate that it has been necessary to review the past
- - You
also asked us to confirm that our correspondence, whether by post or
bye-mail, is not privileged and that we have no objection to publication
of some of our letters. I can confirm that the correspondence is not
privileged. - - it is a matter for you how you intend to proceed in the
light of the concerns you have expressed.
Your comment that the Judge “over-reacted grossly by ordering
suspension" was dealt with in the Lord Chancellor's letter to you dated
27 June 1999 . In that letter he commented "I agree that if [he] did
suspend your appointment in a manner which amounted to termination, this
would have been incorrect, as I alone have the power to terminate an
appointment . However, in the circumstances, this would have made no
difference , in view of my decision that you should not be serving as a
member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal".
- - you
have been informed that there is nothing further we can usefully comment
upon in light of the Lord Chancellor's decision to terminate your
appointment. That, I am afraid, remains the case - -
Department for Constitutional Affairs
27 August 2003 KT to PGW
- - Your request for a copy of “Dr [sic!]” HP's letter has been
reconsidered. I can confirm that the power to withhold the documents
from you is discretionary.
Neither the Data Protection Act nor the Code of Practice on Access to
Government Information prohibits the release of information but both of
them provide exemptions from the duty to disclose information.
been advised that the reference to paragraph 4 of Schedule 7 in my
letter to you dated 13 February 2003 is incorrect. On reflection, no
exemption should have been cited . The letter from Dr sic [R/Ch] is
held on an unstructured manual file and therefore the subject access
provisions of the Data Protection Act do not apply . - - I am sorry if I
led you to believe that your right of access to any of your personal
data contained in Dr P***r's letter was governed by the Data Protection
- - As
the Data Protection Act does not apply in this case I have considered
whether the information should be released to you under the
non-statutory Code of Practice on Access to Government Information .
- - Information held by departments in their capacity as employers is
exempt, as is information in respect of individuals holding judicial
appointments. I therefore refuse your request under exemption 8 of the
Code (public employment, public appointments and honours).
- - Under both the Data Protection Act and the Code the Department is
not required to provide you with the information which you seek. The
matter has been considered by the previous Lord Chancellor on numerous
occasions and he saw no reason to change his view.
- - I
am shortly due to leave my current post to take up other duties within
the DCA. I am therefore copying this letter to my colleague [Ms MB], who
has taken over responsibility for matters relating to the MHRT
KT JUDICIAL COMPETITIONS (TRIBUNALS) DIVISION
Nick Raynsford MP to Lord Falconer, Lord Chancellor, DCA
Dr Peter Woolf - 2a Vanbrugh Hill Blackheath, London SE3 7UF
will see from Dr Woolf's file that he has had a great deal of
correspondence with the previous Lord Chancellor concerning his
suspension from the Mental Health Review Tribunal. I believe that the
core of Dr Woolf's argument has been somewhat lost through the vast
amount of correspondence and would ask that, given your new appointment,
this case is reviewed once again in its entirety. - -- - - I would ask
that you review this case again as I strongly feel that Dr Woolf should
be privy to any complaint made against him that has not been previously
Nick Raynsford MP
January 2004 to Nick Raynsford MP:
* The gratuitous reference above to 'a little surprise' about
my " having resumed siting (sic) since the decision" (and the irrelevant
citing of the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act) shows that the
letter-drafter had regrettably neither absorbed the arguments, nor
checked the papers - easily done direct with PGW, or by refreshing his
memory of the representations to Lord Irvine - before this letter was
placed before the new Lord Chancellor and signed, without anyone even
checking for spelling mistakes! PGW
January 2004 (PGW to PLH, DCA)
- - Lord Falconer's response - - does not allay our concerns - - may I
put to you please some specific questions? What were your reasons for
declining a face-to-face meeting ? What reasons are there for not
reviewing my complaint ? The superficial reasons provided have
satisfied no-one as being reasonable or adequate. What more should I be
expected to do to obtain a genuine review ?
I still believe that a face-to-face meeting would be a constructive
forward step .- -
January 2004 (PLH to PGW)
There is really nothing that I can add. Because I can add nothing - -
a meeting is not necessary. I cannot advise you on what you do next, or
comment further - - P L Hales.
February 2004 (PGW to PLH, DCA)
- - Review of my dismissal: Returning to your - - advising me to take
legal advice (which is unaffordable, as are the costs implications) may
I also enquire whether, should an earlier offer of pro bono legal
representation be renewed, would your Departments, in fairness, abrogate
all rights to recovering Treasury Solicitor and Court Costs from me ? -
- those might otherwise threaten my resources in retirement, including
my house, my wife's security and her inheritance? Only thereby - - could
a debate proceed on an even playing field.
February 2004 ( PLH to PGW) Any costs you incur are at your own risk.
2004 (PGW to PLH) The successive responses of the two Lord Chancellors
have been felt not to address the cogent concerns advanced - - Surely
you would consider this case serious enough to warrant investigation?
If not, please would you let me know why not ?
Why was a non-retrospective clause introduced into the current
arrangements? No good reasons have ever been advanced and it is surely
Surely you would consider it reasonable to have sought fuller
explanations in response to many questions which have remained
To provide them would be consistent with the public's current desire for
openness and with the recognised virtues of "openness and transparency"
in government. The negative application of non-mandatory discretion - -
has skewed the balance of fairness to an extent that is patently unfair
in regard to natural justice.
No cogent or adequate Reasons that might make sense of what transpired
were ever provided - - and there has been no opportunity to question or
refute those which may have been advanced. Surely that gives you
unease? - - Over the years I have repeatedly been denied any face to
face meetings with any of the officials involved - - Given the
seriousness of the actions taken against me, this surely cannot be "good
2004 (PLH to PGW) - - the current Lord Chancellor and his predecessor
have considered your case - - There is nothing to add to the responses
you have received - - Please direct any further correspondence to Jason
2004 (JY to PGW) - - Once I have - - got my self up to speed with the
issues I shall, of course, contact you - - I am already committed to
spending most of next week at a MHRT induction event.
2004 (PLH to PGW) - - Thank you Peter. - - I have been involved in
Mental Health issues on and off for 25 years, so like you feel
frustrated by the lack of cohesive support structures - - Philip
2004 (JY to PGW) - - I do not believe that a meeting would be
constructive or useful - - I am convinced that this matter has
become a crusade for you - - all I can do is re-iterate the answers you
have already received - - it remains a possibility that you will
be classified as a
vexatious correspondent. *
* Readers may
judge where legitimate vexation should reside?
PGW 15 July 2004 (PGW to JY) - You will have noted the assurance to Lord
Irvine from the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists - - that they were not
wasting the Department's time with a case of vexatious complaining - -
numerous communications were necessary because the relevant issues, for
some unknown reason, were never properly addressed - - how other than by
persistent campaigning have long standing injustices and abuses of power
become recognised and (where the law permits) remedied? - - Mistakes
having been made, why has it been so difficult to get a genuine enquiry
into them? - -
21 July 2004 (JY to PGW) - - You are not prepared to accept the
information provided to you by officials and both the previous and
current Lord Chancellor - - I consider this matter closed. Continued
correspondence without raising new and substantially relevant points,
will result in my seeking to have you classified as a vexatious
23 July 2004 (PGW to JY) - - What does puzzle me is why PLH directed me
to you? Throwing the Woolf into the Lion's Den?
Daily Bible Study: Daniel 6:1-23
Now Daniel so distinguished himself by his exceptional qualities that
the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the
administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against
Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do
so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and
neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, "We will never
find any basis for charges against this man unless it has something to
do with the law of his God."
So the administrators and the satraps all agreed that the king should
issue an edict in writing that cannot be altered and cannot be repealed
. So King Darius put the decree in writing that anyone who prays to any
god shall be thrown into the lions' den. Then these men went as a group
and found Daniel praying and threw him into the lions' den.
At dawn the king hurried to the lions' den. He called "Daniel, has your
God been able to rescue you from the lions?" Daniel answered, "My God
sent His angel and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt
me, because I was found innocent in His sight. Nor have I ever done any
wrong before you, O king." The king was overjoyed and when Daniel was
lifted from the den, no wound was found on him.
14 October 2004 (JY to PGW)
- - you have not raised any new or substantial points - -
classification as a vexatious correspondent essentially means
that the Department would no longer acknowledge or respond to any
communication from you on your complaint - - I hope that this final
e-mail will convince you that - - e-mails which go over issues which
have already been considered and addressed will not change anything.
15 October 04 (PGW to JY)
- - points that have remained unanswered remain “new” - - To remind you
of just two substantial outstanding points:-
1) who fixed it (and why) that I should have been singled out (to my
best knowledge) and so severely disadvantaged by the “non-retrospective”
clause (q.v. the “flood gates” argument)? - -
2) Was the advice of an experienced consultant psychiatrist medical
member, familiar with the actual urban work at the heart of the matter,
sought concerning my representations and contentions that there could
have been no justification for the bizarre response to imagined (or
trumped up) misdemeanours? And my contention that there hadn't been any
offences? - - you are all hamstrung in Britain's so-called "open
government” by reliance upon the curious enshrined doctrine that
ministerial decisions, however flawed, are unappealable [Google lists on
the internet 222 English pages for “
ministerial decisions unappealable
”]. This engenders a world of unreality beyond tightly closed doors,
behind which admission of human error and apology becomes impossible - -
24 11 2004 PGW to MK Were you present at the meeting when the 'non-retrospective'
clause was discussed? Unfortunately the Society's offer to
scrutinise the proposals at draft stage was not taken up. Can you
remember how and why that clause was introduced, leading in turn to
everyone's excuse not to meet me?
26 11 2004 MK to PGW The Complaints Procedure was drafted by me
and two others. We were all categoric that this was a move forward for
the MHRT and was not to be retrospective - - only future complaints
should fall within its remit.
2004 KG to PGW I'm not sure how far you will get in attacking a decision
to make a new system prospective only. What you may want to consider is
approaching the current Regional Chair, Jeremy Cooper, and asking him if
he will meet you and see if the matter can be approached with a fresh
viewpoint and resolved. Failing that, there may be remedies available
under the Freedom of Information Act.
December 2004 PGW to JC (Regional Chairman MHRT) - - the Society of
Clinical Psychiatrists [hoped for] an opportunity to comment on the
draft of the revised complaints procedure - - my suspensions and
subsequent bizarre dismissal must be regarded as ‘unsafe' until I have
an opportunity to meet someone – anyone – in authority, which has been
denied me throughout - the least I should be offered now is a meeting
with you [or with your opposite number in the other Region]
11 2 2005 PGW to HP Thank you for explaining that you had shredded your
own copy of the letter which caused my dismissal - - now that the
Freedom of Information Act is in force, and the new Lord Chancellor has
emphasised the importance of openness in the public interest, I hope
that you will no longer wish to sustain your objection to my seeing a
copy of the original, which remains on file at the DCA - - in addition
to your main contention, which you got so very wrong, you referred to
‘other matters', which naturally intrigued me. Please would you confirm
your willingness for the letter now to be released for me to see it?
2005 RS (DCA) to PGW - - I think the matter should be referred to the
Lord Chancellor again - - it would be right for the Lord Chancellor to
see the points you have raised since he last considered the matter - - I
think the best I can do for you is to get the case to the Lord
Chancellor - - I would be willing to meet with you after the Lord
Chancellor has considered the case
17 06 2005 PGW to RS - - After all these years, I do hope it will not be
just another legalistic document reverting to and endorsing the
"reserves the right to suspend or terminate an appointment at any time"
etc formula, without having considered the whole afresh, and
proportionately to the supposed offence .
2005 RS (DCA) to PGW - - I appreciate that you have been waiting a long
time - - I will make arrangements to meet with you as soon as possible,
by which time I should be able to report on the Lord Chancellor's views.
2005 RAY SAMS MEETING WITH DR WOOLF AND DR NIAS
2005 PGW to RS - - I do now recognize that Decisions by the Lord
Chancellor cannot be challenged - - even when they contain demonstrable
errors - - factual errors of this importance should have allowed for
reconsideration or an appeal ? - - Your limited remit did not help to
throw light on the existence of any “comparators” or precedents, or the
nature of the evidence considered by Lord Irvine - - why Lord Falconer
had not seen fit to take evidence from critically relevant witnesses, or
why he had not responded to the urging from all sides that a proper
review was fully justified? To my knowledge - - a medical member
failing to recognize or declare knowledge of a tribunal applicant has
never resulted in summary suspension from the MHRT - - let alone
dismissal. It was issues such as this that we were hoping to discuss.
25 10 2005 PGW & DN to RS
(from Notes of meeting 27 September 2005)
Mr Sams reported that the Lord Chancellor had “carefully considered“ Dr Woolf's latest request for a further review of his complaint about Judge Palmer - - the outcome is that Lord Falconer was not prepared to interfere with Lord Irvine's original Decision to dismiss Dr Woolf from the MHRT, for the reasons Lord Irvine supplied in June 1998. Dr Woolf has been questioning the adequacy of those reasons ever since. - - Mr Sams explained that he thought it preferable to make the DCA's final position clear "eye to eye" rather than through the post. Dr Nias was invited to ask questions; he had accompanied Dr Woolf, both doctors anticipating a frank discussion of what had gone wrong and how it could be put right.
Dr Nias questioned how could it be claimed that Lord Falconer had “carefully considered” the matter without
1. either of the Lord Chancellors having sought evidence from the Tribunal Members who sat on the occasion in question?
2. It was difficult to see how evidence from Judge Palmer alone could be accepted without checking, given the history of “personality clashes”?
3. Why was the extreme Decision of termination made, when the usual practice is apparently not even a suspension?
4. To justify the apparently extreme departure from usual practice, or at least put it in context, Dr Woolf was surely entitled to have sight of the first hand complaints against him and to know if there had been any precedents of suspension of medical members, let alone termination?
2005 RS (DCA) to PGW - -
MEETING WITH DR WOOLF AND DR NIAS Tuesday 27 September 2005 Mr Sams
explained that he was conscious of the delay in responding to the points
that had been made on the matters raised in the past and the new issues
raised more recently. - - The Lord Chancellor had read the papers
carefully but did not feel there were any grounds to re-open the
decision. - - Both Lord Chancellors had reviewed the case and both
considered that the initial decision was correct. Mr Sams was unable to
offer Dr Woolf any other avenues to take the matter further, as there
was no route of appeal - - there was nothing further he could usefully
add - - the Department had done all that it could do. - -
2005 PGW to JT (DCA) We have read your note of the meeting carefully. Is
Mr Sams prepared to confirm that OUR earlier summary of the meeting,
which he has studied, is a fair one?
2005 RS (DCA) to PGW
re UNANSWERED QUESTIONS raised at 27 September meeting and again during
I am sorry not to have replied sooner. I can acknowledge that Dr Nias
made the remarks you have highlighted - - I recognised that you and Dr
Nias thought the investigation should have been handled differently - -
There is really nothing else that I can usefully add.
January 2006 PGW to FoIA Formal Application to Freedom of Information
Commissioner for disclosure of documents withheld - initially
because of Data Protection Act having been conceded non-applicable to
the issue, 27 August 2003): " Neither the Data Protection Act nor the
Code of Practice on Access to Government Information prohibits the
release of information " - -
Advice on prescribed form, which answers common queries: - - Q : Will I
be able to get any information I want? A :Not always. The Act recognises
that there will be valid reasons why some kinds of information may be
withheld, such as if its release would prejudice national security or
damage to commercial interests.....
January 2006 KH (The Information Commissioner, Customer Services
Officer) to PGW - - before we can ask the public authority to respond to
you, we will need a copy of the Information Request that you sent in
2005. Once we have this, we can ask the authority to respond to you.
They should send you either the information or a refusal notice giving
you the reasons. If they give you a refusal notice, they should give you
details of their internal review/complaints procedure this is because
this has to be exhausted before we can look at a complaint
February 2006 RS (DCA) to PGW Personal data, which is processed for the
purposes of assessing an individual's suitability for judicial office,
is exempt from disclosure under Schedule 7 of the Data Protection Act.
Your request for information which relates to your dismissal as a member
of the Mental Health Review Tribunal is therefore refused.- - the
Information Commissioner (ICO) - - cannot investigate complaints about
the Department's decision to refuse you information under the Code of
Practice on Access to Government information
* c.p. 27 August 2003 KT DCA: - - therefore the subject access
provisions of the Data Protection Act do not apply . - - I am sorry if I
led you to believe that your right of access to any of your personal
data contained in (the Regional Chairman's) was governed by the Data
2006 KH (The Information Commissioner, Customer Services Officer) to PGW
- - your case has now been put into the Central Government Team to deal
with it under the Data Protection Act 1998. This is because the
information requested is personal data. The team that it has gone to is
currently working on cases from December 2005. I hope that this
clarifies the situation...
[Jan/March correspondence: perhaps readers can understand that eventual
"clarification" on behalf of the The Information Commissioner ?
13 May 2006 PGW to DCA - -This final letter puts to you some whys and
wherefores. What harm would have flowed from having answered my relevant
questions? Why were frank answers consistently denied? Why did Lord
Irvine dismiss my serious complaint about vindictive treatment?
- - not having been allowed, in the interests of natural justice, to see
what Judge Palmer wrote about me - - does no credit to your Department
or to UK's Government as it now exists. - - The views of experts whom I
have consulted - - have been summarized succinctly:
“ - - what is very much at issue is how the whole matter was handled.
All in all it does seem to be a classic case of mismanagement and
avoiding the real issues .”
My position and “attitude” towards the responsibilities of medical
membership of the Tribunal over long years would have become abundantly
clear if direct conversation had been allowed with any of your officials
- - many of the questions raised were within the scope of discretion and
that they could have been answered with the will to do so. WHY did you
feel it was axiomatic to maintain the discretional right to withhold
information so defensively and persistently? Are your ministry's civil
servants (and the DoH's likewise) bound by a general policy to deny
information requests whenever possible? If so, why?
Why was my complaint itself never – to my knowledge – addressed and
dealt with? What is the attitude of your Department towards
“whistleblowing” by responsible and concerned professionals?
PGW It will be interesting to see if he shows any sign of having
thought about your questions.
2006 RS (DCA) to PGW
I am afraid that there is no further comment that I can make on the
questions raised in your letter.
2006 PGW to DCA "I am afraid" implies fearfulness? What had Mr Sams to
fear from answering my final round-up of questions honestly? Is he
forbidden to do so?
24 May 2006 JT (RS/DCA) to PGW - - the expression "I am afraid" was not
an expression of fearfulness but simple courtesy - - I understand only
too clearly that you wish to engage in correspondence - - Any further
communication from you will simply be acknowledged and filed.
5 June 2006 PGW to RS I am indeed familiar with "I am afraid" as
euphemistic usage, as per the countless "polite" apologies for delays
and inconvenience that have peppered my correspondence with the two
Departments which run the MHRT in an uneasy divide and share and confuse
relationship. - - No, I should not wish to pursue correspondence with
someone who by virtue of his employment as a civil servant, is not
allowed to share his true thoughts...
- - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“ there is a tendency in some departments to use every argument that can
be mounted, whether legally based, code-based or at times simply
to prevent information being disclosed." - -
- - "delay is a main weapon of those who want to keep secrets.
Eventually, many people get fed up waiting for the information and go
The Times 31 05 2005
"You sometimes make mistakes and have to
Quote of the Day The
Times 1 08 2005
* * * *
* * *
- to this day- - not one authority has actually said sorry to us. Nobody
has offered any help."
Angela Cannings on report which calls for "sensitivity, discretion and
The Times 6 September 2004)
“ All I want is for Blair to admit he were wrong and
say Sorry! ”
Mother of soldier killed in Iraq – Butler report review, Channel 4, July
Government . . . restores lost trust above all by its willingness to
attend to what lies beyond the urgency of asserting control . . . by
patient accountability and the freedom to think again, even to admit
error or miscalculation.
Dr Rowan Williams, quoted in
The Times , April 21, 2004
is necessary that all governments be checked,
otherwise they lose the ability to think twice.
The Guardian , March 24, 2004
Earlier this month the constitutional affairs secretary Lord Falconer
"without openness we cannot hope to build public confidence in the way
we are governed". - - The government makes a big thing of having a
conversation with the rest of the country. It is time for it to have a
quiet word with itself.
Freedom of information - Leader
The Guardian March 19, 2004
ordeal like mine either makes you or breaks you. They tried to crush me,
but I wasn't having it. - - There's just me and this huge system, and
over the years, I've got it in disarray. - - The system conspires to
They should have done things properly in the first place, but they still
don't want to take any blame.'
David Rose (interview with WS)
The Observer January 18, 2004
- - I
of course sympathise with your sense of injustice at the way you have
been treated, and at the absence of a proper opportunity to know and
respond to the complaint against you. Unfortunately the access rights in
this area are of limited use - - exemptions are, however, discretionary
- as the DCA has finally conceded. They excuse the department from
complying with your request, but do not prohibit it from doing so. So
they would be able to provide you with much fuller information if they
wanted to - -
Maurice Frankel Director,
Campaign for Freedom of Information
Opening up Whitehall and introducing freedom of information is a vital
task - and vital that it succeeds. It's essential that government
finally embraces openness. The benefits of open government are clear:
transparency, accountability, honesty.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Lord Chancellor
Law for Journalists Conference
I welcome your focus on the Freedom of Information Act. But it is
emphatically not the case that officials can simply deem it "not in the
public interest" to provide an answer to an information request. There
is a presumption of disclosure - - the Act expressly talks about the
public interest in disclosure. In most cases, information must be
disclosed where this outweighs the competing public interest in an
exemption. So public interest considerations can secure greater
openness, not justify secrecy "if all else fails". In any event, my
office stands ready to consider complaints that an exemption has not
been properly applied or - where relevant - that the public interest in
disclosure has not been fully considered.
RICHARD THOMAS Information Commissioner
The Independent 28 December 2004
(Letters to the Editor , Freedom of Information Act and others)
- Lord Falconer of Thoroton, QC, said he expected that ministerial
veto would be used only rarely to stop papers being released under the
Freedom of Information Act, which comes into force today - - The Lord
Chancellor insisted that it would be used only under exceptional
circumstances. He said: “That ministerial veto will be very rarely
used.- - "
The Times , January 1 2005
anyone applying for information must be prepared for uncompromising
setbacks and frustration along the way.
A plethora of reasons will be offered for withholding documents - -
Those who persevere may have to appeal to the Information Commissioner
if they are turned down,
and then go through another long process.
The Times January 6 2005
" once an error is made, the unspoken rules say that it must be
and everyone is required daily to offer their fresh support for
yesterday's mistake. "
The Times April 5 2006 )
L et the penalty fit the crime
- - I was disturbed to read of the two-year prison sentence given to
Angela Dublin (report, April 11)
- - On another, luckier, day (her) acts of negligence would have
amounted to violations of
road traffic laws that might have added points to her driving licence.
Ms Dublin has been sentenced to prison not because of the nature of her
negligent actions - -
the court has bent itself to serve vengeance through the unnecessary
infliction of suffering,
a far more deliberate act than Ms Dublin's.
(CHRIS EADES The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
The Times April 13, 2006 )
Persistent questioner is barred
A man who has clocked up more than 750 freedom of information demands to
the Ministry of Defence, the police and the Cabinet Office has been
barred from using the service.
The Department for Constitutional Affairs said "There is no desire to
deter FOI requests that are genuinely seeking information, but we do
want to deter vexatious ones."
Maurice Frankel, of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: "The
real concern is not vexatious requests." The danger was that the
government intended to make it harder for ordinary people to obtain
information - -
The Guardian August 1, 2006
and prophetic words have been offered from time to time, discounted and
(it may be thought) foolhardily ignored. But on the way, between 1997
and 2006, there's been a lot of eye-opening discovery about defensive
(Chairman of MHRT Regional Chairmen's Committee, and Honorary Fellow of
the Royal College of Psychiatrists) to PGW, July 1998:
- - it is increasingly difficult to find "liberal judgment". The civil
service are unlikely not to have backed the Regional Chairman's judgment
unless it was completely unsustainable - - details are irrelevant -
opinions have been formed - - No-one is likely to give way - - "put it
down to experience" and do not let injustice, keenly felt, cast a
forward shadow - - realise how "illiberal" our society has become . - -
Observations by a Consultant Clinical Psychologist:
- It is a matter of concern that this appears to provide an example of
"abuse of power". The dismissal letter by the Lord Chancellor makes the
point that he and he alone makes the final decision, and later, to
quote: "I see no justification to reopen the case". It is noteworthy
that there is no explanation as to why the arguments you put forward
provide no justification.
- The Lord Chancellor may have been seen to lose face if he had backed
down. So it not surprising if the easy way out was taken and the
arguments put forward by you and the SCP dismissed out of hand. By
repeating that the Lord Chancellor has the final word Mr Yaxley seems to
imply that you have to accept the implication which follows, namely that
you have become a victim of the system, however flawed it might be.
Pity that the operative grievance procedure limitations cannot be stated
- Not giving any reason for a decision may simply reflect the attitude
of "abusers of power" and how they characteristically think; e.g. "I
have made my decision" is to them sufficient reason!
- My own long-held view is that the government should have a cabinet
minister dealing with problems that are often amenable to a quick and
obvious solution. Given the arguments and the support of the SCP and
your MP it would seem quite reasonable for such a minister to check to
see if there has been unfairness or misunderstandings - and then to
suggest a way forward.
- the system is clearly unfair and people ought to try harder to make
things better, rather than just to accept defeat or to say "that's
life". Much more can be done to bring about improvement, if only people
in authoritative positions had more time to devote to specific matters
of obvious concern.
- "meeting is not necessary" etc (PLH, 27 January 2004 and later
refusals): but it might lead to a different perspective; that after all
is a reason for discussing things.
(Dr. David Nias, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, University of London,
Addendum DN, April 2006:
What remains very much at issue is how the whole matter was handled, e.g:
- When you appealed against not being given a proper reason, why was the
LC letter not cited and carefully explained?
That could have led to discussing the practicalities of Tribunal work
versus keeping to the "ideal" principles of "good practice". Should you
have been given more of a chance to respond to the accusation?
- What is the evidence that you refused to recognise the principle of a
potential conflict of interests? Would it have made a difference if
you'd given in and admitted that they had a point - albeit a
hypothetical one? Perhaps you were the first not to give in! Why were
examples of previous cases of a similar nature not cited, if there had
- did your case set a legal precedent?- The important issue from the
LC's standpoint appears to have been your reluctance to humbly accept
the principle (hypothetical or whatever) that he was making. You seem to
be a victim of the need to "tow the party line". The official line seems
to be that one must pretend to work to the "ideal" even though at the
same time it is necessary to be "sensible". ("Likelihood" of conflict of
interest implies more than a remote, infinitesimal "possibility".)
- This sort of discussion should have preceded the final and
unappealable Decision of the LC. Better that, than to have put
themselves in a position where to back down would have been to lose
-At the very least someone should have met with you before the Decision
was made to explain why, after months of delay, the LC department was
- - if the argument had been put to you directly and you'd have bee n
able to address the issue right at the outset , things might have turned
out entirely differently. I agree with David Nias's comments on this.
(Maurice Frankel, Director
Campaign for Freedom of Information
* * * *
* * *
Readers' observations on this paper will be welcomed
Greenblatt, M. (1986) The use and abuse of power in the administration
of systems Psychiatric Annals 16, 650-652.
House, R. J. (1991) The Distribution and Exercise of Power in Complex
Organisations Leadership Quarterly 2(1), 23-58.
Howell, S. (1997) Editorial, MHRT Members' News Sheet 8, 1-2.
Richardson, G. & Machin, D. (2000) Doctors on tribunals - A confusion of
roles British Journal of Psychiatry , 176, 110-115
G. (2001) The future (or not) of the medical member Psychiatric
Bulletin, 25, No. 1. Society Of Clinical Psychiatrists Study Group (1988
of Practice for suspending Hospital Doctors British Journal of Clinical
& Social Psychiatry 6, 94
P. G. (1991) The role of the doctor in the Mental Health Review Tribunal
Bulletin of the Royal College of Psychiatrists , 15 407-409.
- - - -
- (1999) Serving the MHRT 1966-98 Psychiatric Bulletin, 23, No. 4.
- - - -
- (1999) Inside the Mental Health Review Tribunal British Journal of
Clinical and Social Psychiatry , Vol 10 No 1.
- - - -
- (1999) Discipline in Public Service Justice of the Peace Vol.163,
- - - -
- (2003) Openness Denied – Excessive Government Secrecy? Justice of the
Peace , Vol.167, No.38.
- - - -
- (2003) Think twice before you serve on a tribunal Hospital Doctor,
* * * * * * *
My thanks to all the many doctors and lawyers, tribunal members and
others who have helped with support and advice; especially to the
officers of the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists; Dr Harry Jacobs,
former Chairman, Dr Peter Tomlin, Hon. Sec of the Suspended Doctors
Group and Dr Dermot Ward, Chairman of SCP, for encouragement and
representations to the Lord Chancellors and to Dr Ward for accompanying
me to a meeting with the BMA; and to Dr David Nias for his assistance
with the bibliography, support at meetings in the Department for
Constitutional Affairs and with the Campaign for Freedom of Information
and advice upon this paper. PGW
from a radiologist sacked
after whistle-blowing following his discovery of thousands of unreported
X-rays in a teaching hospital:
you blow the whistle without "putting the Trust into disrepute? I would
now advise anyone not to bring up a problem in a hospital because they
will be disciplined...(Hospital
Doctor, 13 December 2007)
views expressed in the above paper represent the personal views of its
author and not the Society.