A watchdog has no legal jurisdiction to challenge the voluntary removal of a Belfast neurologist from the medical register, a High Court judge has ruled.
Justice McAlinden ruled that the legislation did not allow the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) to challenge a decision to accept the candidacy of Dr Michael Watt.
With a potential loophole in the law identified, separate judicial review proceedings brought by some of his former patients will now be heard.
In October last year, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) granted the former Royal Victoria Hospital consultant a voluntary removal from the register.
It meant the neurologist at the center of Northern Ireland’s largest ever patient recall would not face a public hearing over fitness-to-practice issues over his work.
PSA lawyers have sought to establish that it has jurisdiction to refer Dr Watt’s referral to the High Court for appeal.
They maintained that the decision meant the end of the procedure without a decision being taken on a possible disciplinary sanction.
But ruling on the preliminary issue, Justice McAlinden held that the relevant legislation only allows the PSA to refer decisions made by the court specifically on fitness to practice and allegations.
“This is not a situation where a request for voluntary erasure is made, even within the framework of an existing fitness to practice procedure”, specified the judge.
“This may well be seen as a gap in the legislation which would need to be addressed, but it is something the relevant department may wish to consider.”
He confirmed: “The decision of the court on this preliminary point is that such power does not exist, therefore the notice of appeal issued by the authority in this case has no legal effect.”
However, two of those treated by Dr. Watt come forward with distinct challenges to his voluntary withdrawal.
Danielle O’Neill (39) claims there was no jurisdiction for the move which violates her human rights.
Belfast man Michael McHugh (51) also claims it was an unfair measure, denying public scrutiny of the neurologist’s work.
Their applications for judicial review will be heard later this year.
Outside court counsel Ciaran O’Hare, representing Mr McHugh, praised the PSA’s legal efforts.
He added: ‘The judicial review of my client and the related case of Ms O’Neill is more imperative than ever with regard to the reversal of the voluntary erasure of Dr Watt.’