9 February 2006
To the dismay of welfare rights workers and claimants, the House of Lords has upheld the decision of the Scottish Court of Session in the Gillies case. (See: Gillies case: pantomime dames declare "Trust them, they're DWP doctors!"). They have held that a reasonable person would not believe that there was any possibility that doctors who work as examining medical practitioners for the DWP might be biased in favour of their fellow DWP doctors findings when sitting as medical members on DLA appeal panels.
The doctor in this case worked virtually full-time for the DWP, carrying out personal capability assessments and doing DLA visits, both on a sessional basis, as well as finding time to sit as a medical member on appeal panels. The House of Lords, however, dismissed the possibility that any fair minded observer would think that the doctor “was to be seen as a Benefits Agency doctor or that she was in some other way aligned with the Benefits Agency.”
Instead they decided, “Her relationship with the Benefits Agency was as an independent expert adviser. Her advice was sought and given because of the skills that she was able to bring to bear on medical issues in the exercise of her professional judgment.”
Their noble lordships even went on to hold that the fair minded observer would realise it was a positive advantage having such doctors sitting on tribunals because “He would appreciate, looking at the matter objectively, that her knowledge and experience could cut both ways as she would be just as well placed to spot weaknesses in these reports as to spot their strengths.”
It is worth noting that since our original pantomime dames article was written in 2003, payment to doctors doing DLA home visits has risen to a very handsome £104 per home visit.
Their noble lordships full decision can be downloaded as a .pdf file.