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Disablement pension – meaning of “permanently disabled” within the meaning of the police pensions regulations 1987 regulation a12

On the facts of the case, the judge found that the PMAB was entitled to find that there was no evidence of a permanent disabling medical condition.

R (on the application of SIDWELL) v Police Medical Appeal Board (PMAB) and Chief Constable of Derbyshire (interested party)

Executive summary

On the facts of the case, the judge found that the PMAB was entitled to find that there was no evidence of a permanent disabling medical condition and that any medical condition present was amenable to treatment. 

Background

The claimant joined Derbyshire Police in 1985.  He was described as a diligent and conscientious officer and was promoted to sergeant in 1997.  Unfortunately, a sequence of events which included the breakdown of his marriage and a transfer out of the Economic Crime Unit led to feelings of anger, resentment, embitterment and antipathy towards the force, described as having increased steadily in intensity.  These feelings were aggravated when he was accused of underperforming in work.  In February 2009 he was signed off work as sick with work-related stress.

In December 2009 a psychiatrist diagnosed situational anxiety disorder and thought it unlikely the claimant would be medically fit to return to work before his normal retirement date in February 2012.  However, the claimant’s application for medical retirement was rejected on the basis that he was not permanently disabled. 

The claimant instructed a further psychiatrist on his own behalf, who reported that he was suffering from chronic phobic anxiety disorder and mixed affective disorder and was permanently disabled.  Despite that, the selected medical practitioner (SMP) certified that he was not permanently disabled.  The claimant appealed to the PMAB, who found that he did not have a permanent, disabling medical condition and that any condition he might have was amenable to treatment.  The claimant challenged this decision by way of judicial review.

Administrative Court

As there is no statutory right of appeal against the decision of the PMAB, the only route of challenge was judicial review.  The decision was challenged on the basis that the PMAB had erred in law, given inadequate reasons and that its reasoning was absurd and/or perverse and/or irrational.               

Mostyn J. considered the words “permanently disabled” and described them as plain and simple English words which would not usually be expected to require an elaborate, or indeed any, definition.  However, he did not believe that this was the case here.  The judge found that permanent disablement for the purposes of Regulation A12 (Permanent Disablement) requires proof of three distinct matters:

i)  An inability to perform all the ordinary duties of a member of the force in question; and that

ii) the inability is caused by a medical condition of the body or mind (but excluding vulnerability to such a condition);

and that

iii) the inability is likely to endure for the foreseeable future.

On the facts of this case, the judge found that the PMAB was entitled to find that there was no evidence of a permanent disabling medical condition and that any medical condition present was amenable to treatment.  The judge acknowledged that whilst the PMAB had not expressly asked itself whether the claimant’s condition prevented him from carrying out all the ordinary duties of an officer in his particular force, this was a very minor error which had no bearing on the result.  Basically, the PMAB had asked itself the correct question and this would not have affected its findings. 

In terms of its reasoning, the judge found that the PMAB’s reasoning had the inestimable virtue of brevity.  The court could not expect standards of reasoning and judgments from a PMAB, equivalent to those of the higher appellate courts in the country.  The decision was well and clearly reasoned.

Finally, whilst expressing some criticism of the PMAB’s specialist member’s ‘demolition’ of the claimant’s expert evidence, the PMAB had acted within its legitimate remit in preferring its specialist member’s opinion, its reliance not being so contrary to the weight of the evidence as to invalidate its conclusion.

Comment

This case is an interesting consideration of the definition of permanent disablement and the three distinct elements which need to be proved under Regulation A12. Although the first is a question of fact, the second and third are a mix of both factual and expert evidence. 

In this particular case the claimant was suffering from a psychological condition which on the face of it was not permanently disabling.  Despite the unfortunate financial implications for the claimant (the loss of three years’ income from his pension), the PMAB came to a correct decision.