What is a rare and exceptional circumstance?
Gupta v GMC,  EWHC 38 (Admin)
In a judgment handed down last month the High Court maintained its steadfast approach to appeal time limits. The message that emerged from the ruling was clear: absent something truly exceptional, a late appeal will mean no appeal at all.
Dr. Gupta had been erased from the medical register following convictions for possession of extreme pornography and indecent images. He appealed against that decision. However, before the merits of the appeal were examined, it was struck out because it had been filed late.
In its ruling, the High Court acknowledged that a discretion to extend the time limit does exist, but emphasised that it would only be exercised in “rare and exceptional cases”. Dr Gupta’s case did not meet that high threshold.
At first blush Dr. Gupta’s arguments for an extension might have seemed to have merit: he had attempted to file his appeal within the deadline given to him by the MPTS, albeit in the wrong format and by the wrong method; the appeal was then lodged correctly within a week of the deadline; there had been some confusion as to whether the deadline had been extended by the MPTS; and finally he was a litigant in person. However, on the facts, none of these considerations were found to justify an extension.
The Court cited a string of judgments, many in a regulatory context, where a wide range of circumstances had been rejected as amounting to exceptional circumstances. These included (a) difficulties in obtaining legal advice or legal aid; (b) inability to raise funds to pay the court fee in time; (c) a degree of ill health or stress; (d) where the delay in question was very short. Ultimately, the court provided one factor which could have justified allowing Dr Gupta to bring an appeal out of time. The MPT had informed Dr Gupta the last day for filing an appeal was 4 September 2019. In fact it was in fact 3 September. The court commented,
“If Dr Gupta had filed a proper Appellant’s Notice with a fee remission application on 4 September 2019 then I would very likely have concluded that this was a proper case to extend time, given that he had been wrongly advised.”
He did not, of course, and the appeal was rejected.
Whilst the discretion to allow an appeal out of time exists, there yet remains not a single example where this discretion has been properly exercised in the appellant’s favour.