The Solicitor General was yesterday forced to defend derogatory emails by hospital staff about an eye surgeon who claims he was unfairly fired before he started his job – including one from the Medical Director suggesting they “sack this bloke before he even gets here.”
He is representing the States in a legal challenge in the Royal Court by Jersey-born consultant opthamologist Dr Amar Alwitry, whose contract was terminated before he was due to start on 1 December 2012, against the States Employment Board (SEB).
Dr Alwitry says he was only fired because he voiced concerns about patient safety.
He also claims that hospital staff defamed him in a series of emails, but the Royal Court was told by the defence as they opened their case yesterday these were genuine opinions – and based on the fact there had already been a relationship breakdown and loss of trust in the eye surgeon before his dismissal.
As the case entered its fourth day, Advocate Stephen Chiddicks, representing Dr Alwitry, told Royal Court Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith that his client had chosen not to attend court, but instead returned home to his family, for his own mental and emotional wellbeing. He said his absence meant no disrespect to the court, "he just feels a bit overwhelmed," Advocate Chiddicks added.
The Solicitor General, Mark Temple, then put his case for the SEB before the Court, describing a rift between the surgeon and hospital team and arguing that his behaviour had been such that it caused a loss of confidence. He said that the SEB's position was that Dr Alwitry was to be appointed in a senior post in a clinical setting and that "the degree of trust and mutual respect and cooperation required to properly discharge that role were matters that were central elements."
Pictured: The Solicitor General, Mark Temple, is representing the States Employment Board.
He also dismissed Dr Alwitry's claim that he had been sacked for whistle blowing, having voiced concerns about patient safety. The Solicitor General added that Dr Alwitry should have made his defamation claims far sooner – at least within three years from when the sacking happened.
In a document setting out his case, Dr Alwitry referred to several comments made by employees at the hospital, including an email from the then hospital Medical Director, saying, "I think that we should sack this bloke before he even gets here" sent in October 2012.
The Solicitor General accepted a statement from the HR Director was "in principle defamatory” to Dr Alwitry, but added that the SEB relied on two defences: "fair comment or truth" and "qualified privilege." He said that while the man made "serious comments" about the doctor's character, one could look at the subsequent events and see they were of substantial truth.
Pictured: Dr Amar Alwitry was not in Court yesterday as his Advocate explained he had had to return home with his family.
Andrew McLaughlin, who was a Managing Director at the Hospital at the time and has now left his post, was called as a witness by the Solicitor General. Having submitted a written statement, he was only questioned by Advocate Chiddicks.
He said he didn't recall reading Dr Alwitry's application form, adding that the surgeon should have raised any issue regarding his starting date during the first interview. He said that complete clarity was required on both sides to make the "transfer of employment" as smooth as possible and that the opportunity for clarity was during the interview. He also told Court he couldn't recall a consultant ever requiring a six-month notice.
He also argued that Dr Alwitry's "considerable exchange of communications" was not about clarity but a desired outcome for him.
Mr McLaughlin denied that writing that Dr Alwitry "looked like trouble" was an attempt to put the blame away from the hospital as Advocate Chiddicks said they had been vague about the starting date in the original advert for the position.
The case which is being heard by Royal Court Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith, sitting with Jurats Antony Olsen and Geoffrey Grime, is expected to continue for another week. Several members of staff from the Hospital are due to appear in court in the next few days.
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