Dr Pridgeon, the appellant, was a registered general practitioner charged by the Australian Federal Police, and later the Queensland Police, with offences against the respective criminal codes of the Commonwealth and Queensland. The charges related to Dr Pridgeon’s involvement in harbouring and/or supporting a mother and her twin daughters; the mother having not returned the twins back to the custody of their father. The father had been named by an order of the Family Court of Australia as a residential parent and the parent with whom the children had been ordered to live with.
Dr Pridgeon asserted that he had been informed by the twin’s mother that they had been sexually abused by their father. Dr Pridgeon also understood that the Queensland Police and the Family Court had been informed of the allegations but no action had been taken in respect of same. Dr Pridgeon had personally observed that the children appeared terrified of him which he interpreted as a fear of all men. He was also present when on one of the children complained to their mother about bleeding from the anus among other things.
On 17 October 2018 Dr Pridgeon was arrested and charged with a number of criminal offences including two charges of conspiring to defeat justice and two charges of child stealing. The child stealing charges were withdrawn on approximately 22 September 2020. Other counts of dealing with the proceeds of crime and of unlawful stalking were also withdrawn.
Section 150 Inquiry
On 29 October 2018 the Medical Council of NSW suspended the registration of Dr Pridgeon pursuant to section 150 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (National Law). The Medical Council asserted that the emergency action was being taken on the bases ‘as a risk to the health and safety of the public‘.
The Medical Council did not identify how Dr Pridgeon’s actions had posed a risk to the health and safety of children or why his action might be regarded as a significant concern to the health and safety of children more generally.
Section 150A Review
Dr Pridgeon made several requests for the Medical Council to review of the decision to suspend his registration pursuant to section 150A of the National Law. On 2 December 2020 the Medical Council affirmed its decision to continue to suspend Dr Pridgeon’s registration.
Appeal to the Tribunal – NCAT
Dr Pridgeon appealed the Review decision to the Tribunal. On 30 June 2021 the Tribunal dismissed Dr Pridgeon’s appeal.
The Tribunal did not uphold the suspension on the ground that he posed a risk to public health and safety which was the basis the Medical Council had suspended his registration. The Tribunal determined to uphold the suspension on the ground of public interest.
This was despite the Tribunal accepting that Dr Pridgeon believed that complying with the Family Court order would result in the perpetuation of further abuse of the children.
Court of Appeal – Supreme Court of NSW
Dr Pridgeon won his appeal to the Court of Appeal.
On 14 April 2022 the Court of Appeal set aside the Tribunal’s decision along with the decisions of the Medical Council.
The Court stated, inter alia, ‘The public interest is not obviously served by the suspension of a competent and experienced doctor whose medical skills are not in question and whose services are in demand simply because he has been charged with offences in respect of which he would appear to have a good arguable defence.
The Court noted that the powers of the Medical Council pursuant to section 150 ‘should be reserved for urgent cases‘. Importantly, the Court noted that ‘the context of s 150 suggest that it should only be invoked as an emergency power where the circumstances are urgent‘ which was not this case.
This article was written by Scott Chapman, Partner.