Dentist facing malpractice allegations fails in legal challenge
A senior Northern Ireland dentist facing widespread malpractice allegations failed today in a legal bid to block a meeting which could see him dismissed.
Professor Philip Lamey was seeking a High Court injunction restraining the Belfast Health Trust from deciding his future employment while professional misconduct proceedings are ongoing.
But Mr Justice Deeney ruled that the authority was justified in wanting to determine his position without having to wait the outcome of a General Dental Council (GDC) hearing.
He said: "This is a public body discharging important public duties.
"It would be quite wrong to prevent them holding a meeting which might lead to the termination of his contract."
The dentist, a professor at Queen's University and senior consultant at the Royal Dental Hospital in Belfast, is accused of 46 counts of malpractice against 33 different patients. He denies the allegations and adjourned proceedings in the misconduct hearing are due to resume in October.
Although excluded from his duties by the Trust for nearly three years, he has continued in private practice.
Prof Lamey issued his legal action after being asked by the Trust to attend a meeting last month.
His lawyers claimed the move was fuelled by a media outcry, arguing that it was unfair to step in half way through the GDC case.
However, counsel for the Trust identified alleged admissions about record keeping failures and stressed the potential impact of continuing to employ the dentist must be considered.
Delivering judgment today, Mr Justice Deeny acknowledged that deciding whether to dismiss Prof Lamey before he has put his case to the GDC could breach the rules of natural justice.
But he held that other legal remedies would be available to the dentist if any termination was subsequently found to be unfair.
The judge also pointed out: "This unhappy situation of the plaintiff's exclusion from work has now been going on for some two years and eight months.
"If the injunction was granted it would continue until the GDC professional conduct committee reported.
"That cannot be an appropriate situation; presumably other persons are being employed to do Prof Lamey's work. If so there's a cost to the public."
A series of commitments already given by the dentist to deal with alleged deficiencies in assessments, treatment, records and investigation were also highlighted.
Refusing to grant the injunction, Mr Justice Deeny said: "These are very onerous undertakings.
"It seems to me to amply justify the Trust in addressing the position of Prof Lamey without awaiting the outcome of the GDC hearing.
"It's a matter for them to make a decision fairly and in accordance with the law."
He declined to award costs, leaving both sides to pay their own legal bills.