Dr Avinash Sawh –
The lawyer for doctor Avinash Sawh, who was found guilty of “infamous and disgraceful conduct” for racist, obscene and discriminatory comments he made in phone calls with a former female employee in November 2020 claims the disciplinary tribunal of the Medical Board was not fair to his client.
In a WhatsApp message to Sunday Newsday, Sawh’s attorney Wayne Sturge said: “The proceedings can best be described as a farce as the lone witness was a member of the Medical Board who became a witness to launch the complaint. That witness indicated that had it not been for the press conference and public apology done by Dr Sawh with his previous attorney, the tribunal could not have proceeded against him.”
He said the tribunal ignored “the obvious unfairness” to Sawh when they proceeded with the tribunal without the material witness (the employee) who did not provide a witness statement or made herself available for cross examination.
“The most basic requirements for fairness were ignored. It was clear that the tribunal gave into what they felt would be public odium had they followed the law.”
The tribunal, which concluded the matter on May 10, found Sawh guilty and suspended him for one week from June 1 to 7 during which he will not be allowed to practise. Sturge said any decision to challenge the tribunal’s decision was up to his client but had no instructions to appeal.
In response to Sturge’s accusations, the Medical Board chairman Dr Neil Singh said the tribunal followed due process of law and was guided by the legal advice of the president of the Law Association Lynette Seebaran-Suite, John Heath SC and Rajiv Persad SC.
“Mr Sturge has many opinions and spoke about a lot of things that were irrelevant to the issue. The majority of his submissions were based on his own personal opinions and not on fact or evidence. He could say what he wants but it’s not a farce.”
Singh said the tribunal listened to all of Sturge’s concerns, reviewed the many documents he submitted and the tribunal addressed them so he could not complain.
Singh added that requests to give evidence and to be cross-examined were sent to five people and organisations who had written official complaints to the Medical Board about Sawh including Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, the TT Registered Nurses’ Association, the African Student Union and a medical doctor. But no one came forward which resulted in the only evidence against Sawh being his public apology.
But president of the TT Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) Idi Stuart said on Saturday the association did not receive any request to testify or supply any additional information. So he was shocked when he read in a newspaper article that the association did not come forward to give evidence or to be cross examined which led to a “slap on the wrist” for Sawh.
He said the association made an official complaint within a few days of the incident and had received an acknowledgement from the Medical Board which indicated that the investigation had begun.
He said he will check the association’s records for any request from the Medical Board but, since it was a public entity, the association intended to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get a copy of the Medial Board’s request.
However, Singh was adamant that the secretary of the council at the time, who did the investigation, wrote to all complainants requesting they appear to give evidence.
“You have to base your findings on evidence and the sentencing on mitigation. It was very poor (to not appear) on their part,” said Singh.
Stuart said if the request was sent and the Medical Board did not get a response, it should have followed up on the matter. Since he saw no such thing, nor did the association get a call from the Medical Board. He said he could only assume the members were not interested in learning the full spectrum of the issue.
Therefore, the association rejected the penalty of a one-week suspension.
“While it is good that the regulatory body has actually taken some action, we are a little discomforted that such a serious allegation was made and there was only one week’s suspension. It comes like no action has been taken whatsoever.
“The mere fact that they applied a sanction, even though its minimal, means they found him guilty of the action. We see that slap on the wrist as a way to let the individual off. It’s a way of showing the public that something was done while not actually doing anything. It’s an easy way out so nobody could say they didn’t do anything.”
He said the association had been lobbying its regulatory body to take action against nursing personnel that “run afoul of the principles” of their profession.
He also called on all regulatory bodies of various categories of healthcare professionals to hold their members accountable when they do so as it was the only way members of the public would have the respect for these categories of medical staff.
When Sunday Newsday contacted president of the TT Medical Association Dr Damion Basdeo, he said he would need to review the proceedings and sentence before he could comment. Messages and calls to Deyalsingh went unanswered.