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Court Attendance Fees

Some members have brought to the attention of the SMA Council the problems they encountered with lawyers regarding court attendances. We understand that “unless stated otherwise to the witness, in the case of a professional witness who is instructed by a lawyer, the lawyer is personally responsible for the professional witness’ fee”. SMA has written to Mr Chandra Mohan, President of the Law Society and he has furnished a copy of their Council’s Practice Direction from which the following quotation is extracted:

    “12(b) Witnesses’ Fee and Expenses - Cost of Professional Agents 
    For the preservation of good relations with members of other professions, Council considers that where a solicitor engages the services of a professional witness, he should assume personal liability for the payment of the proper fees of that witness, unless at the time the services are requested he makes it clear to the witness concerned that he will not be personally responsible for payment of the fees involved and that the witness must look to the lay client for payment...

The SMA Ethics Committee has made the following rulings with regards to court attendances which it would discuss with the Law Society:
a.  Doctors who are requested to standby for court attendance, whether at the Court or at 
     their own clinic premises, are eligible to claim court attendance fees because his practice 
     for that day will be disrupted. It would be necessary to reschedule appointments which 
     are filled in advance, to postpone or reschedule operations and booking of hospital 
     facilities. Further, a doctor who is on standby for court attendance would have to employ 
     locum or make arrangements with another doctor to run his clinic.
b.  Doctors who are summoned to attend court are eligible to claim court attendance fees 
     irrespective of whether the case is rescheduled, postponed or cancelled.
c   Doctors may charge a preparation fee or require a down-payment for their services.

 The SMA Council will be meeting with the Council of the Law Society to draw up joint directions on the matter for doctors and lawyers. Members will be kept informed of further developments.

Out-of-Office Consultations 

The announcement of the 1996 SMA Guideline on Consultation Fees was circulated to members in July 1996. The footnotes to the Consultation Tent Card, which was also circulated, include comprehensive explanations of the different types of consultations. The explanatory notes for Out-of-Office Consultation defines it as “a consultation which occurs outside the clinic, and the attending doctor has to make a purposeful trip for this consultation. The venue of the consultation may be the patient’s residence (housecalls), workplace, A&E department or other location”.

During the past few months, the SMA Ethics Committee handled two complaints involving Out-of-Office Consultations. These two cases are cited below for the information of members.

Case 1: A general practitioner was requested to make an Out-of-Office Consultation in the early hours of the morning to see many students who were down with food poisoning during a camping trip. The SMA Ethics Committee had ruled that as the practitioner had made only one purposeful trip for the consultations, he would be eligible to charge Out-of-Office Consultation Fee (emergency) in the range of $150 to $200 for the first patient he saw. For every subsequent patient, he is eligible to charge in-Office Consultation in the range of $18 to $25 (in the case of a short consultation) or $25 to $55 (in the case of a long consultation). These charges do not include charges for medications.

Case 2: A specialist was on his rounds on a public holiday when he was called to see two patients from the same family and suffering from the same ailments, at the A&E department of the private hospital. The two patients were treated as outpatients. The SMA Ethics Committee ruled that since the doctor had made one purposeful trip to see the two patients on that visit, he is eligible to charge Out-of-Office Consultation in the range of $150 to $200 for the first patient. For the second patient, he is eligible to charge In-Office Consultation in the range of $45 to $85 (in the case of a short consultation) or $70 to $130 (in the case of a long consultation).

Both doctors accepted the decisions of the SMA Ethics Committee.