Doctor with drug and driving convictions can be named in media reports on disciplinary inquiry, judge rules
22nd December 2022
The High Court has lifted the anonymity of a doctor in a Medical Council disciplinary case who is facing two two separate five-month jail sentences for driving offences and a drug possession conviction.
It followed a successful application by Mediahuis Ireland, publishers of the Irish Independent and Independent.ie, to have the anonymity order on Dr Syed Waqas Ali Bukhari lifted.
Dr Bukhari, a surgical registrar who until recently worked in Cavan General Hospital, was given anonymity in the disciplinary proceedings against him, which applied under the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 unless the High Court decided otherwise.
Those proceedings have yet to be heard but in the meantime the court agreed last December not to suspend him, pending the disciplinary hearing, after he gave certain undertakings, including not to breach the road traffic laws. The anonymity order remained in place.
However, last July the Medical Council brought the case back to court after it learned he had driven again some eight weeks after the December undertakings, and while he was disqualified. He had been given a five-month prison sentence for driving while suspended, which he appealed. The High Court agreed again not to suspend him on the basis of further undertakings.
An appeal against the severity of the five-month sentence, and another relating to offences in 2021 for possession of cannabis, using two false driving licences, and driving without insurance or a licence, were due for hearing in Cavan Circuit Court earlier this month.
However, he did not turn up in the Circuit Court, which was told he had left for Pakistan as his grandmother was sick. The appeals were adjourned to a future date.
On Wednesday, president of the High Court Mr Justice David Barniville, in a judgment, lifted the anonymity order in the disciplinary proceedings.
He said further hearings can be conducted in public and Mediahuis and others were entitled to name and otherwise identify the doctor.
He agreed with Mediahuis that the Constitutional protection of the freedom of the press is a very important protection in a Constitutional democracy and is an important factor to be weighed in the balance in an application like this. Dr Bukhari also has very important Constitutional rights to his good name, reputation and his livelihood, he said.
But he did not accept an argument on his behalf that it was possible to separate out his right to a good name and reputation as a doctor from his right to a good name and reputation as a private citizen which he must weigh into the balance in deciding on this application.
In drawing that balance, he had to take into account the fact that Dr Bukhari committed and pleaded guilty to several serious road traffic offences and Misuse of Drugs Act offences for which he has received periods of disqualification and sentences of five months’ imprisonment in May 2022 and April or June 2022, which are under appeal.
All those offences took place in public and were heard in open court, there were a number of newspaper reports of those proceedings, and it was inevitable that will seriously affect his reputation, he said.
Dr Bukhari accepted that it was a Sunday World article on September 4 last that caused him to lose a locum position, he said. The judge did not accept that identifying him now would have the damaging effect he contends, as significant damage will already have occurred as a result of the publication of the newspaper articles.
The judge said the doctor, when approached by a Sunday World reporter, said he hadn’t been suspended but he did not say that he was required, as part of his further undertakings last July to the High Court, to notify any prospective employer of the existence of the disciplinary complaint against him.
The judge said the court had only accepted his undertakings by the finest margin possible and not suspended him. Yet he did not volunteer this qualification in his comment to the newspaper reporter, he said.
The judge adjourned the disciplinary matter to next May and said he would reissue a judgment he gave last July with Dr Bukhari’s name no longer redacted.