The long-awaited professional conduct hearing of Dr De Vos, who allegedly advised a mother that her unborn baby is a human being, started on 27 and 28 October 2019 in Cape Town. Over two days, four grounds were argued as to why all the charges against Dr De Vos should be set aside.
In essence, these grounds were:
1. The HPSCA did not follow its own regulations before the decision to charge Dr De Vos and thus the hearing was a nullity.
2. The charges were too vague to enable dr De Vos to prepare his defence.
3. The length of time between when action was first taken against him, April 2017, and the eventual hearing on 29th October 2019, was excessive and for various reasons unfair. In this regard amongst other things the following was emphasized: All the delays were caused by the HPSCA, without any explanation a single charge was withdrawn in July 2018, only to be reinstated a few months later in November 2018, only to be replaced by four wholly new charges some 3 weeks before the first day of the hearing in August 2019, the severe ongoing prejudice to dr De Vos who as a result of the conduct of the HPSCA has not been able to practice as a doctor since June 2017 up to the present day, despite not yet having had a hearing.
4. Bad faith by the HPSCA – numerous examples were given, including the changing of the charge sheets and the failure to give necessary information in terms of undertakings by it.
Various decisions of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal were relied on by Dr De Vos.
During the first day, the prosecutor for the first time provided some of the information sought by De Vos to prepare for the hearing (e.g. a medical report), and conceded that other crucial information is not in their possession (e.g. the text messages referred to in the charges, and the statement by the complainant (patient) in charges 1 & 2).
At the end of the second day, after a short adjournment by the disciplinary committee of the HPSCA, it ruled that counts 1 and 2 “were properly before it” (which suggests it was thinking of the nullity argument) and could continue. Furthermore, it stated that it still had to decide about counts 3 and 4. No reasons were provided at the time of the ruling, and the Committee said it would give its reasons for its decision later.
Dr De Vos’s legal representative informed the committee that before they could decide on the way ahead, they needed a decision about counts 3 and 4 and the reasons for all their decisions. The main reason for wanting the reasons is so that a decision can be made as to whether the decision should be taken to the High Court on review. The disciplinary committee was also informed that a piecemeal approach, starting with counts 1 and 2 whilst they made a decision on counts 3 and 4, was impractical and ill advised.
What is of possible significance is that when it made its ruling the committee of the HPSCA stated that counts 1 and 2 were “properly” before it. This suggests that at this stage the committee had only addressed the nullity argument of Dr De Vos, and not the arguments as regards the vagueness of the charges, that a fair hearing was no longer possible and that the matter was driven by bad faith on the part of the HPSCA. When clarity was asked for in this regard, the chairperson stated that their ruling also took into account the other said points. This is one of the reasons why the reasons of the committee are so important – to enable the legal representatives of Dr De Vos to try and understand how the committee arrived at its decision, not least of all how it dealt with the cited decisions of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal. This is crucial before the legal representatives advise Dr De Vos on the way ahead.
Dr De Vos, who is a member of Doctors For Life International (DFL) is supported by DFL and legal team (De Wet Wepener Attorneys and Adv Keith Matthee SC) on a pro bono basis. For more information, please contact Doctors For Life International at 032 481 5550 or [email protected]