Saroj Iyer and Anr. v. Maharashtra Medical Council of Indian Medicine

AIR 2002 Bom 97; 2002 (3) BomCR 416; (2002) 1 BOMLR 504
Download Judgment: English
Country: India
Region: Asia
Year: 2002
Court: High Court - Bombay
Health Topics: Health information
Human Rights: Freedom of expression, Right of access to information
Tags: Awareness, Freedom of information

This judgment is a joint judgment of two separate but nearly identical writ petitions. The first petitioner sought to attend an enquiry by the Maharashtra Medical Council, the first respondent, investigating a malpractice complaint against a former doctor, Dr. P. B. Desai, who was a nationally known figure. The first respondent denied the first petitioner attendance to the enquiry.

The Medical Council is regulated by the Maharashtra Medical Council Act of 1965 (the “Act”) and their rationale for the denial was that the Act provided no right for the public to attend the enquiry, that the Medical Council is a professional organization able to regulate its own proceedings to hold them in camera and that that under Section 9(1) of the Act, the enquiry is confidential and public exposure could violate the fiduciary relationship between patient and doctor.

Section 22 of the Act provides the Medical Council with the same powers as a civil court when holding an enquiry, making an enquiry qualify as a quasi-judicial proceeding.

The court found that, as a quasi-judicial proceeding, enquiries should always be conducted in public except when having a public enquiry would “defeat the ends of justice.” As a general rule, judicial functions must be conducted in the open to combat “judicial caprice or vagaries.” However, there are exceptional times when the fair administration of justice, the purpose of public trials, is in conflict with public trials, making it a necessity for public trials to be limited in the interest of the administration of justice.

The court found that the confidentially granted in Section 9(1) of the Act applies only to meetings and that a fiduciary relationship between patient and doctor cannot justify a blanket ban on public enquiries of complaints of malpractice.

“14. … There is no doubt that in appropriate cases in the larger interest of the enquiry of professional misconduct against a registered practitioner in a particular matter it is always open to the Maharashtra Medical Council to direct that enquiry proceeding in such matter shall be held in camera but that must, be in suitable cases where the Medical Council is of the opinion that attendance of such enquiry by the public at large may defeat the very ends of justice and may affect the just decision on merits in the enquiry. It is also true that it is always open to the Maharashtra Medical Council to regulate and control the proceedings of enquiry held under Section 22 in accordance with Act of 1965 and Rules framed there under but for want of any statutory prohibition expressly or by necessary implication by regulating or controlling the proceedings it cannot impose blanket ban for public in attending such enquiry proceedings.”

“15. We, accordingly, allow the writ petition in part and issue direction that petitioners and accredited members of the press shall be permitted admission to the enquiry proceedings held under Section 22 of Act of 1965 save and except in cases where the Maharashtra Medical Council is of the opinion that presence of petitioners or the accredited members of the press in the enquiry proceedings shall affect the just decision in the enquiry on merits or any statutory provision that may be enacted or made providing for such enquiry proceedings to be confidential, costs.”