The conviction of Dr. Eireann Kerr raises more questions than it answers and brings the law into disrepute.
Dr. Kerr was in 2013 a 30 year old anaesthetist working in Altnagelivn. On a work night out she became grossly intoxicated and attacked a police officer biting his finger and calling the police officers peasants before waking up claiming no memory of the event in the police station the next morning.
So far, so unremarkable. Maybe Dr. Kerr was a little older then those usually involved in this sort of behavior and maybe a bit more middle class but neither of those was grossly out of the ordinary and neither in any way excused her behaviour.
Where the case becomes interesting is that Dr. Kerr claimed her behaviour was caused by her drink being spiked: nothing exciting yet; a common claim. Then, however, after forensic analysis of her hair it was established that that was indeed the case. Furthermore her work colleagues reported a sudden dramatic change in her behaviour presumably following her inadvertent ingestion of the drugs.
Dr. Kerr was prosecuted and the magistrate found her guilty despite stating that he had no doubt her drink was spiked. This apparent contradiction was explained by intoxication not being a defence in law.
That is no doubt correct in most cases: getting intoxicated with alcohol or drugs prior to committing crimes is no defence. In this case, however, it has been accepted by the court that the intoxication was maliciously procured by a third party: most likely for other more sinister criminal motives towards Dr. Kerr.
Dr. Kerr’s punishment of a conditional discharge might seem fairly trivial were it not for her profession. She will now automatically be referred to the GMC and faces a very real prospect of her career being severely impaired or even ended: all for something that the judge accepted she had no control over. She also faces a further investigation which even if it does not end up in her being punished will hang over her career prospects until it is concluded.
It also transpires that she was offered a caution but of course a caution is a criminal conviction and being a doctor that would have resulted in her referral to the GMC where as noted above the potential sanction is much greater.
This doctor seems pretty clearly to have been the victim here and also to face the possibility of what is in effect double jeopardy and a punishment (loss of career) which seems excessive to the crime: a crime the judge has decided she was guilty of but not responsible for.
The Belfast Telegraph has an opinion piece calling the law an ass. It is, however, rather worse than that. Rather in this case the law seems intent on punishing the victim.
Dr Doherty, a consultant anaesthetist at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry, where Eireann trained for a year before moving to the Royal in Belfast, said: “I feel strongly that she is a good doctor and that it’s not in the public interest to remove the opportunity to let her continue.
“It is grossly unfair that Eireann should face any charges, as she is the obvious victim here.”
Dr Kerr said yesterday that she must have believed that she was under attack whenever she lashed out at the police. She also said that she had been in a “completely confusional state” when she assaulted two officers.
What the purpose of punishing this young woman is and what deterrent it will be to her or others is unclear. It also raises the question of how often this happens to people less articulate and less well supported without the injustices coming to public attention.