Patel to be released from prison

Former Queensland surgeon Jayant Patel.Former Queensland surgeon Jayant Patel will be released from prison after he was granted bail ahead of an expected retrial.

Earlier today the High Court quashed the convictions of the man nicknamed Doctor Death by the Australian media.

Dr Patel was convicted in 2010 of three counts of manslaughter and one count of grievous bodily harm over operations at the Bundaberg Hospital, where he worked as a surgeon between 2003 and 2005.

But the High Court today ruled that a miscarriage of justice had occurred on the 43rd day of Patel’s 58-day trial, when the “prosecution radically changed its case in a way that rendered irrelevant much of the evidence that had been admitted”.

The court ordered Dr Patel’s convictions and seven-year jail sentence be set aside.

It will be up to Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions Tony Moynihan whether to embark on a new trial. A spokesperson for Mr Moynihan today said he wanted to carefully consider the judgment of the High Court before making any decision.

In a bail hearing before Justice Martin Daubney at the Supreme Court this afternoon, the DPP did not oppose bail.

Dr Patel’s defence team argued the bail conditions were “exactly the same” as the conditions he faced while on trial in 2010, and that the $20,000 surety lodged at that time remained in place.

Under his bail conditions, Dr Patel will have to report to police three times a week, must not contact any witnesses, cannot leave Queensland without consent and cannot leave Australia.

Dr Patel’s passport remains in the possession of justice authorities.

Speaking outside court, Defence lawyer Arun Rangia said Dr Patel had heard about the High Court verdict while he was watching television in jail.

Mr Rangia said he had had a short conversation with Dr Patel.

‘‘He was emotional at the news,’’ he said.

Mr Rangia said there was some paperwork to be completed, but he was hopeful Dr Patel could be released from jail as soon as this afternoon.

Indian-born and US-trained Dr Patel, 62, had pleaded not guilty in 2010 to the manslaughter of James Phillips, 46, Gerry Kemps, 77, and Mervyn Morris, 75, who died following surgery performed by him.

He had also pleaded not guilty to the grievous bodily harm of Ian Vowles, whose bowel he removed in October 2004.

Reviewing the original trial, the High Court bench found that the Crown case against the surgeon originally focused on Dr Patel’s surgical skills and post-operative care, alleging he had been “grossly negligent in all aspects of his treatment of the patients”.

However on the 43rd day of the trial, the High Court found, prosecutors changed the scope of their case, narrowing the focus to “whether the surgical procedure in each case should have been undertaken”.

This occurred after it became apparent that the surgeries “had in fact been performed competently enough”, the High Court ruled.

It ruled that evidence the prosecution had introduced about the surgeries and post-operative care before it changed its case was therefore no longer relevant and had been prejudicial to Dr Patel.

At the time, trial judge Justice John Byrne told the jury:

“It is critical to appreciate that this trial is not about botched surgery. Instead, it is about surgery performed competently enough. There may have been an imperfection or two in some of the procedures. If so, the mistakes did not, it seems, adversely affect patients.

“It is not how the [appellant] performed surgery that matters in these four cases.

“What matters is his judgment in deciding to commend the surgery to a patient and, having obtained patient’s consent, in taking the patient to theatre to perform it.”

However, the High Court ruled the “prejudicial effect on the jury was not overcome” and “a substantial miscarriage of justice occurred”.

Dr Patel was extradited to Queensland from Oregon in 2008, after he was allegedly linked to 17 patient deaths.

He faced manslaughter charges relating to three of them: oesophagectomies on both Mr Kemps and Mr Phillips, and a major colon operation on Mr Morris.

After being convicted in 2010, Dr Patel immediately appealed to the Court of Appeal of the Queensland Supreme Court on the grounds a miscarriage of justice had resulted from the change in the prosecution case, an appeal he lost.

That judgment was today overruled, along with the original guilty verdicts.

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