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Surgeon wins court battle over 'slip of the pen'


Prof Martin Corbally

Prof Martin Corbally

Prof Martin Corbally

a SURGEON'S "slip of the pen" should not have been the basis for him being subjected to the "extremely threatening ordeal" of a public inquiry by the Medical Council, the Supreme Court has said.

The five-judge court unanimously upheld the High Court's rejection of the Medical Council inquiry's finding that distinguished paediatric surgeon Prof Martin Corbally should receive an admonishment over "a once-off error".


It related to a handwritten description of a surgical procedure on a two-year-old girl in 2010 in Crumlin Hospital which led to a finding of poor professional performance (PPP) against the doctor.

The court said the law requires that for a medical professional to have to undergo a public inquiry, a threshold of "seriousness" must be met.

It was not fair or just that someone like Prof Corbally was subjected to such an inquiry, with extensive publicity, some of which lacked fairness, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman said.

It was not an adequate vindication of his constitutional right to his good name and was not what the Oireachtas expressed when it passed the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, under which the inquiry was held, he said.

The girl in the case required surgery on her upper lip, an "upper labial frenulum" procedure, as her top lip was catching, causing an ulcer and contributing to a gap in front of her teeth.

However, an incorrect tongue tie procedure was carried out by another doctor to whom Prof Corbally delegated the task after he was called to emergency surgery. Prof Corbally carried out corrective surgery shortly afterwards and the child made a full recovery.

The child's parents complained to the Medical Council and a Fitness to Practice (FtPC) inquiry made a finding of "poor professional performance" against Prof Corbally, which he strongly contested.

He took proceedings in the High Court which found that inaccurate wording on initial handwritten examination notes by Prof Corbally was not causative of the subsequent damage.

The council then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, asking it to define the proper meaning of PPP in the 2007 Act.

Upholding the High Court decision yesterday, Mr Justice Hardiman said the statutory authority governing the medical profession must be capable of saying that a complaint, although legitimate, will not proceed to the point of an FtPC inquiry unless it does involve a serious act or omission.


Mr Justice Hardiman also said this was an unfortunate and in many ways a sad case in which a very distinguished and experienced practitioner found himself at odds with the Medical Council, which in 2008 had rated him as outstanding.

When he was found guilty of three counts of PPP, he was outraged and deeply distressed, and it seems quite clear it had life and career-changing consequences and was subjected to "extraordinarily damaging press coverage and comment", the judge said.

Subsequently, he transferred his professional activities to the Bahrainian hospital run by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Mr Justice William McKechnie concurred with the judgment.