05 Oct 2023
A Victorian general practitioner convicted of unlawfully assaulting two patients has been reprimanded by a tribunal for professional misconduct and suspended from practising for nine months.
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Dr Mohammad Azizul Karim was convicted in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria in June 2019 of two counts of unlawful assault. The first charge related to the assault of a patient (Ms P) in 2018. The second charge related to the assault of another patient (Ms A) in 2009.
Ms P had consulted Dr Karim in November 2018. At the end of the consultation, Ms P thanked Dr Karim who responded with, ‘anything for a beautiful girl’. He then asked Ms P if he could give her a hug. Although she was uncomfortable, Ms P agreed as she did not want to offend Dr Karim. He stood in front of Ms P at the closed door to the consulting room and wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her into his body so that her breasts were pushed against his chest.
After hugging Ms P for about one to two minutes, Dr Karim let go of Ms P and she took steps towards the door. Dr Karim cupped her face in his hands, puckered his lips, leant forward and attempted to kiss her. She moved her head to the side. Dr Karim’s kiss landed on the right side of Ms P’s mouth and cheek. Dr Karim then let go of Ms P’s face and opened the door for her.
On or about 5 November 2018, Ms P made a complaint to Victoria Police. On or about 12 December 2018, Dr Karim was charged with common law assault.
In 2009, Ms A made a complaint about Dr Karim to the Medical Board of Australia’s (the Board) predecessor, the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria. Ms A said that during a consultation, Dr Karim wiped away her tears, held her hand, kissed her on the forehead, and in a separate consultation the next day, held her by the shoulders, gave her a hug and kissed her.
In September 2010, a Professional Standards Panel (the panel) found Dr Karim’s conduct towards Ms A constituted ‘unprofessional conduct’ under the Health Professions Registration Act 2005 (Vic) in force at the time, namely that it was conduct of a health practitioner that was a lesser standard than a member of the public or the health practitioner’s peers are entitled to expect from a reasonably competent health practitioner.
In the panel’s written decision, it stated: ‘[Dr Karim] is an experienced doctor who has worked in Australia in a variety of clinical settings for quite some years. He should have been well aware of what the standards of contemporary medical practice here are.’
The panel cautioned him ‘to be aware of the unacceptability of engaging in unnecessary non-clinical physical contact with his patients’.
Victoria Police became aware of the complaint by Ms A when they investigated Ms P’s complaint in 2019. As a result, Dr Karim was charged with unlawfully assaulting Ms A.
In June 2019, Dr Karim pleaded guilty to and was convicted of unlawfully assaulting Ms P and Ms A. The Magistrates Court of Victoria imposed a Community Corrections Order requiring him to complete 100 hours of unpaid community work in respect of both offences.
The Board referred Dr Karim to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) in March 2020 in respect of his assault of Ms P (given that the assault of Ms A had previously been determined by the panel in 2010). The tribunal concluded Dr Karim had engaged in professional misconduct, that he had breached the 'Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia' and 'Guidelines: Sexual boundaries in the doctor-patient relationship' and stated his conduct was 'completely unacceptable in terms of what patients and the community expect'.
The tribunal ordered that:
In making its decision, the tribunal considered the remorse Dr Karim showed at his court sentencing and his completion of the 100 hours of community work. It was satisfied that after the nine-month registration suspension period had ended and the professional education required had been completed, Dr Karim would be ‘fit to resume practice’.
The tribunal also noted that Dr Karim’s ability to practise had been ‘severely restricted’ since late 2018 because of immediate action restrictions imposed by the Board that prohibited Dr Karim from any contact with female patients. The tribunal also noted there had been some delay in the proceedings because of case backlogs at the tribunal caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The tribunal held that but for the delay, a longer period of suspension may have been imposed.
The tribunal held the ‘message to the broader community is that it can be confident that such behaviour is utterly unacceptable and is not tolerated by the profession, or this tribunal’.
Read the tribunal’s full decision on AustLII.