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HomeMedico-LegalHPCSA's 'comedy of errors' in disciplinary pursuit of Dr Death

HPCSA's 'comedy of errors' in disciplinary pursuit of Dr Death

Dr Wouter Basson

In another victory for cardiologist Dr Wouter Basson, head of the apartheid government’s chemical and biological warfare project and dubbed Dr Death by the media, the disciplinary tribunal members who presided over his hearing have to recuse themselves, the Pretoria High Court has ruled.

Pretoria News reports that this was the order of  Judge Sulet Potterill, who made it clear Basson did not receive a fair hearing. The judge went as far as to refer to the proceedings as “a comedy of errors”.

She found there was bias on the part of members of the tribunal committee that presided over the disciplinary hearing instituted by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

The report says Basson was in December 2013 found guilty on charges of unprofessional conduct. This related to the time when he headed Project Coast – the apartheid era chemical and biological warfare project conducted in the 1980s.

Committee members Professors Jannie Hugo and Eddie Mhlanga were in the middle of hearing evidence to punish Basson for unprofessional conduct when drama erupted. A witness handed in two petitions in which people called for Basson’s name to be struck from the medical roll. One petition was from the SA Medical Association. The report says it came to light that Hugo was a member of the association, which was calling for Basson’s removal.

Asked about this by Basson’s advocate, Jaap Cilliers SC, at the time, Hugo admitted he was a member. Cilliers asked him to recuse himself as he did not disclose his membership of a body seeking Basson’s axing. This was refused.

The report says the committee instead decided to go ahead with the hearing and to call a second witness to testify against Basson. This was in spite of the parties agreeing that Basson would call only one witness and the committee one. But the latter were not happy with their witness’ evidence as he made certain concessions in favour of Basson.

The report says the committee also refused a postponement so that the Basson team could turn to the High Court over the Hugo situation. They went ahead with presenting the evidence of their witness even though Basson and his legal team had left the hearing. When they later asked to cross-examine the witness, the committee refused.

“The cornerstone of any fair and just legal system is the impartial adjudication of disputes. This principle obviously applies to quasi-judicial and administrative proceedings,” Judge Potterill is quoted in the report as saying.

She said the proceedings were irregular and unfair and illustrated a total disregard for the rights of Basson. She said the matter was “a comedy of errors” because it was serious for both the HPCSA and Basson, it had stretched over an “unsavoury” length of time and “now has not come to fruition.”

The effect of the judgement is that the HPSCA will have to start the proceedings from scratch if they elected to go ahead.

Basson, a cardiologist, is meanwhile practicing in Cape Town, the report says

[link url=""]Pretoria News report[/link]

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