Melbourne, Apr 21: Indian-origin surgeon Jayant Patel jailed over fatally bungled surgeries today lost an appeal against his conviction in an Australian court, with the judge observing that “the case could hardly be more grave”.
The Court of Appeal in Brisbane by a unanimous decision rejected Patel's appeal against his sentence and also turned down a plea by the Queensland Attorney-General to increase his seven-year sentence.
60-year-old Patel labelled “Dr Death” by Australian media was not present in court for the announcement. He was convicted of bungled surgeries at Queensland Bundaberg Base hospital and sentenced to seven years in jail - of which he must serve three-and-a-half years.
According to reports, Patel's lawyer Kerry Smith-Douglas said her client would be disappointed and his legal team would discuss whether to launch a High Court appeal. She would be in touch with Patel, who is in Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre, to pass on the news. “He's going to be very disappointed, as I am,” she said, adding “He's holding up very well, he's a strong character and a decent man.”
Following his conviction in July last year, six barristers had been involved in Patel's bid to appeal his three convictions for the manslaughter of James Phillips, Gerry Kemps and Mervyn Morris, who died following surgery performed by him at the Bundaberg Base Hospital between 2003 and 2005.
At an appeal hearing last month, Patel also fought against his conviction for grievous bodily harm of Ian Vowles, whose healthy bowel he removed in October 2004. His lawyers claimed his trial was unfair and a miscarriage of justice had occurred and also argued his seven-year sentence was manifestally excessive.
However, lawyers for Queensland Attorney-General argued Patel's sentence was not long enough. They wanted his seven-year sentence replaced with a 10-year term with a declaration he is a serious violent offender, which means he would have been made to serve 80 per cent of his sentence.
In a 60-page judgment handed down this morning, Court of Appeal judges ruled against both sides, saying Patel's sentence was fair.
“In our view, the sentence imposed properly balances the exacerbating and mitigating features of this unique case,” they wrote. “It was not manifestally excessive. The judge made no error.”
In dismissing the Attorney-General's appeal, judges said they were not persuaded arguments had demonstrated any judicial error in the sentencing process. They said the case was “notorious” and been a difficult matter for the courts as there were no other cases quite like it.
“There are no decisions of this court, or indeed other comparable jurisdictions, which are close to the unusual matrix of circumstances pertaining to this notorious case,” the judges wrote.
Justices Margaret McMurdo, John Muir and Hugh Fraser reflected on the seriousness of Patel's offences. Serious medical criminal negligence like that of which the appellant has been convicted is not easy to investigate or prove,” they wrote.
“Its effect on its immediate victims could hardly be more grave.
“The lives of three manslaughter victims ... were tragically cut short and the quality of Mr Vowles' life was irrevocably and seriously diminished.
“But the effect of the appellant's offending is broader ... it had the potential to undermine the Queensland public's confidence in its hospital system.
“For these reasons, the (trial judge) was right to recognise that an important purpose in sentencing the appellant was to make it clear to the community, acting through the courts, denounced his conduct.” Judges noted Patel's time in prison would be more difficult due to his notoriety.
“His professional career is in tatters. His reputation has been destroyed,” they wrote. PTI