Doctor cleared of medicines importation charges challenges Medical Council inquiry
A hair restoration doctor cleared by a court of illegally importing medicines has taken proceedings to stop a Medical Council hearing over the same matter.
In a case which may have ramifications for investigations by a range of professional bodies, Dr Samuel Van Eeden claims the inquiry breaches his constitutional rights as he has already been cleared of criminal charges.
The South African-born surgeon and his wife Zelda were both charged in connection with the alleged unauthorised importation of the medicines from Bangladesh in 2012.
The medicines included an injected antibiotic for hair restoration treatment, sedatives, drugs for indigestion and cholesterol problems, and a local anaesthetic.
Dr Van Eeden has a regenerative medicine practice in Malahide, Co Dublin.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) told Dublin District Court none of the products were authorised for marketing in Ireland.
Both the doctor and his wife were cleared of the charges.
The HPRA’s file from the case was handed over to the Medical Council, whose Fitness to Practice Committee had been due to begin a hearing on Tuesday.
The hearing did not go ahead after lawyers for Dr Van Eeden secured a stay from the High Court the previous day.
Dr Van Eeden is being represented by barrister Alan Toal and solicitor John Geary.
Following representations on Thursday from Patrick Leonard SC, for the Medical Council, the stay was lifted by Mr Justice Michael Twomey.
As part of the case Dr Van Eeden is seeking an injunction restraining the council’s Fitness to Practice Committee from proceeding to hear the disciplinary matter until such time as his constitutional challenge is determined.
A central plank of Dr Van Eeden’s challenge is that the holding of the inquiry amounts to a form of “invidious discrimination”.
In papers lodged with the High Court, he claims a person acquitted of a criminal charge who is not a member of a professional class can enjoy that benefit and is free to continue in their workplace.
However, he alleged that as a member of the professional classes he was being “prosecuted” again, this time by the Medical Council.
Among the declarations he is seeking is that this inequality of treatment is not in accordance with the spirit or intention of Article 40.1 of the Constitution, which states all citizens shall be held equal before the law.
In an affidavit, Dr Van Eeden said he believed he was clearly being discriminated against by reason only of his membership of his profession.
“In contrast, for example, a tradesperson acquitted before the courts on a criminal matter may without further impediment return to his or her trade absent fear they would be brought before their governing union and prosecuted for the same matters upon which that person had just been acquitted,” he said.
During his application to lift the stay on the hearing, Mr Leonard said Dr Van Eeden had “a weak case” and there was no need for the continuance of the stay.
He said the doctor ought to have applied to the Fitness to Practice Committee for the stay rather than seeking it from the court.
Mr Leonard also claimed there had been a lack of candour by the other side about the background leading up to the Fitness to Practice Committee hearing date.
This was rejected by Mr Toal, who said he could have put voluminous material before the court, but this would only have complicated the matter.
Mr Justice Twomey said he had been concerned about the lateness of the stay application when he granted it on Monday and would now lift it after hearing from the other side.
The matter will now be transferred to another judge for a date to be set for the hearing of the full case.