Chris Lancelot: Accused doctors deserve some anonymity

Angus Thomson must be a relieved man. For three years this consultant gynaecologist has been living under the threat of a private prosecution for inappropriate sexual behaviour with a patient.

Then, after the patient's reports of 'leg-buckling orgasms', the trial collapsed when one of her previous GPs revealed details of her past behaviour.

Fortunately for Mr Thomson the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the trial will have exonerated him completely in the public mind. But spare a thought for other doctors who have been found innocent in less immediately clear-cut circumstances. They risk forever being regarded as: 'That doctor against whom all those allegations were made. He was acquitted of course, but ...'

Mud sticks. Medical qualifications excepted, a doctor's good name is their single most important attribute. Yet this reputation, which took a lifetime to create, can be trashed in an afternoon by a single allegation. Because of this, I have always felt that all defendants should have the right to remain anonymous, so that if a not guilty verdict is reached the hearing itself will not have affected their all-important reputation.

There are many legal precedents: the anonymity given to witnesses or victims in sexual or blackmail cases; reporting restrictions on under-age defendants; and the withholding of parents' names in abuse cases to protect the children. Hiding a defending doctor's identity should also deter aggrieved or obsessed patients from filing malicious complaints.

However, the authorities take the opposite view: they want the accused to be named publicly, to alert other victims or potential witnesses. Indeed, in Mr Thomson's case the patient's previous GP only came forward having been alerted by the media publicity. Who knows what the outcome would have been had this not happened?

Despite this, I suspect that Mr Thomson's case is the exception that proves the rule. Under British law everyone is innocent until proven guilty: clearly an innocent doctor shouldn't have their reputation unfairly tarnished during a failed prosecution. All accused doctors facing a court or a hearing should have the right to remain anonymous unless, and until, they are found guilty.

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