Just Don’t Go There
“A fishing rod is a stick with a hook on one end and a fool at the other.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-17840
When a police pension authority decides to hold a review of an injury pension it is not entitled to pack some sandwiches and a flask of tea and go on a fishing expedition. It can’t itself, or via the SMP, try to second-guess or overturn earlier decisions, whether made when an injury award was first granted or at an earlier review.
Regulation 37 is perfectly clear on this, yet foolish forces mysteriously seem unable to grasp the fact. The quote below is from the Court of Appeal judgement in the case of The Metropolitan Police Authority vs. Belinda Laws, where the court was considering the fishy argument of the Met that the SMP could revisit, and thus come to a different view of the factors which led to earlier decisions. The court rejected this argument, stating, in effect, that earlier decisions were very much final, as were the facts on which the decisions were made:
“18. So much is surely confirmed by the terms of Regulation 37(1), under which the police authority (via the SMP/Board) are to “consider whether the degree of the pensioner’s disablement has altered”. The premise is that the earlier decision as to the degree of disablement is taken as a given; and the duty – the only duty – is to decide whether, since then, there has been a change: “substantially altered”, in the words of the Regulation. The focus is not merely on the outturn figure, but on the substance of the degree of disablement.
19 In my judgment, then, the learned judge below was right to construe the Regulations as she did. Burton J’s reasoning in paragraph 21 of Turner, which encapsulates the same approach, is also correct. The result is to provide a high level of certainty in the assessment of police injury pensions. It is not open to the SMP/Board to reduce a pension on a Regulation 37(1) review by virtue of a conclusion that the clinical basis of an earlier assessment was wrong. Equally, of course, they may not increase a pension by reference to such a conclusion; and it is right to note that Mr Butler, appearing for the Board, voiced his client’s concern that so confined an approach to earlier clinical findings might in some cases work to the disadvantage of police pensioners. Strictly that is so. But the clear legislative purpose is to achieve a degree of certainty from one review to the next such that the pension awarded does not fall to be reduced or increased by a change of mind as to an earlier clinical finding where the finding was a driver of the pension then awarded.
Why then do doctors Johnson and Bulpitt think they are permitted to look for information in someone’s medical history which might reveal something about apportionment or causation? The former is the SMP put in post by Avon & Somerset Police Pension Authority and the latter the substantive Force Medical Officer from Avon & Somerset Police.
Take a look at the email below, in which Dr Bulpitt actually mentions in the same sentence, ‘apportionment’ and ‘attribution of cause’! He is arguing that the SMP should have full access to any individual’s medical records back to the year dot. He wants to see if something is ‘concealed’ which might let the SMP come to a different view which would allow him to call into question earlier final decisions.
The foolishness of these two medical worthies inquisitiveness is disturbing. They may know the difference between a wart and a boil (not that I would trust either one of them to remove or lance any such disfigurements on my body) but they seem to known diddly-squat about the seminal appeal court decision in the case of Laws.
The simple fact is that SMPs conducting a review of an injury pension are not allowed in any way to revisit apportionment or causation. (Apportionment is the tricksy ploy of saying a disablement is partly or wholly due to a non-duty injury or pre-existing condition, and causation is the SMP looking for something other than injury on duty having caused the disablement.)
Has there been substantial alteration in degree of disablement since the latest of either the last review or original award? That is the only question the SMP is allowed to consider. Medical history prior to the injury award being given (or prior to the last review) could not speak to that, only to the question of the correctness of the original award or the award on review. That is the very thing which the case of Belinda Laws rules unacceptable. Further, Laws was followed and confirmed in the case of Simpson vs. Police Medical Appeal Board in the High Court in 2012. The principle is beyond doubt. The SMP can not access whatever medical records he wishes. That is the very thing that Avon and Somerset is getting wrong at the moment. (Unfortunately, it is not the only thing.)
In a later email, Dr Johnson says he will be ‘robust’ on those former officers who refuse to disclose full medical records.
Regulation 33, of the Police (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006 states that if any person concerned wilfully or negligently fails to submit himself to such medical examination or to attend such interviews as the medical authority may consider necessary in order to enable him to make his decision, then the police pension authority has the discretion to make their determination on such evidence and medical advice as they in their discretion think necessary.
A pensioner is being neither wilful nor negligent should he or she point out the law to an erring SMP, nor does the regulation mention access to medical records. In fact, drawing the attention of the SMP to the fact that not only has his hook got no bait on it, but his dog is eating his sandwiches is doing him a great service, as it should prevent him from acting unlawfully.
There is nothing in the law which would suggest to former military gynaecologist Johnson that he could say the Regulations allow him to have a full picture. His statement is either a bare-faced lie, or a display of pure ignorance.
Surely even a pilchard like Johnson has the ability to read the Regulations and see that?