A Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) laid a charge against Dr I (the Psychologist) which alleged she was guilty of professional misconduct. The charge alleged that during a telephone conversation with a father who was a respondent in a family court proceeding in February 2016 the Psychologist:
- disclosed professional and personal confidential information regarding another clinical psychologist (Dr N) ;
- made inaccurate and potentially defamatory statements about Dr N; and
- disclosed information that was confidential to the Family Court.
The Psychologist answered a telephone call from a father who was involved in a family court proceedings. The father introduced himself as a lawyer for the child working in the Family Courts. The call got cut off and the father called back a few minutes later and started recording the conversation between them. This was done without the Psychologist’s knowledge.
The contested transcript of the call was produced in the Agreed Bundle. However, the transcript was treated with some caution by the Tribunal as there was no independent verification of the authenticity of the document. Therefore, the Tribunal adopted the cautionary approach of only accepting its authenticity to the extent that it was confirmed by the Psychologist.
The Tribunal found some of the particulars established and they cumulatively amounted to professional misconduct.
The Tribunal said it is an essential feature of the trust that is placed in psychologists that they carry out their duties in a way that does not breach the ethical and professional standards set for the profession.
Finding on the Particulars
The Tribunal found the Psychologist did discuss Dr N’s home situation. However, the Tribunal was not satisfied the information was confidential and did not find this part of the charge established.
The Tribunal found the Psychologist did make some of the alleged derogatory statements about Dr N. While the Tribunal accepted the Psychologist may genuinely have had concerns about Dr N, the Tribunal found it was inappropriate for her to make these gratuitously derogatory statements. She was under no duty to make these statements and they caused significant harm to Dr N. In addition the Psychologist did not properly identify the caller and the Tribunal found that to be negligent.
The Tribunal found the Psychologist did disclose confidential information about Family Court processes and this conduct was negligent.
The Tribunal ordered the Psychologist:
- be censured;
- undertake a course of training on ethics and professional boundaries; and
- pay $11,600 costs.
It further directed publication of its decision and a summary.
The Psychologist appealed to the High Court against the Tribunal’s findings, the decision to decline permanent name suppression and the direction as to publication of the decision. By Order by Consent the High Court upheld the appeal. The Tribunal’s decision on liability was set aside and the consequential decisions as to penalty and costs were quashed.
The Practitioner’s name and any identifying details were permanently suppressed and the direction for publication was varied.
R v PCC (High Court, Wellington, CIV-2017-485-1060, 26 November 2018, Cull J).