Former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor Richard Freeman applied for another adjournment to his long-running medical tribunal this week, but it has been rejected.
According to BBC Sport, Freeman, whose fitness-to-practice hearing dates back to February 2019, asked for a delay to help administer COVID-19 vaccinations at his NHS practice in Lancashire.
However, the application was opposed by the General Medical Council (GMC) and rejected by the tribunal service, and so the hearing will recommence as planned on Friday, January 22 after previously being adjourned in November.
BBC Sport revealed correspondence between legal representatives of Freeman and the GMC, which has brought the case against him.
“We strongly believe that the COVID crisis position should take precedence,” wrote Freeman’s lawyers, while the GMC said it “strongly opposed” what it saw as a bid for “an open-ended adjournment”.
In the end, the Medical Practioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) ruled that the request, which risked pushing the end of the hearing back to the autumn, was not warranted.
“Having carefully considered the submissions made by the doctor’s legal representatives and the GMC, and taking into consideration the stage the hearing has reached, an MPTS decision-maker decided that the hearing should go ahead as planned,” read a statement.
Both the GMC and MPTS noted that Freeman does not have to attend in person, and that closing submissions can be made by his legal team while he is away administering COVID vaccines.
The process is still in the ‘facts’ stage, where the GMC’s allegations are debated, but is nearing the end of that stage, with just three days scheduled for next week following Friday’s session.
The tribunal is expected to deliver a decision on the facts on March 2. After that, the hearing will move to the ‘impairment’ phase, where the doctor’s fitness to practice is assessed in light of the findings. Both sides can still call witnesses at this stage before the process concludes with a decision regarding any punishment.
The tribunal will reconvene for this for three days from March 17-19, before another four-day session six weeks later, from May 4-7.
Freeman has accepted 18 of the 22 allegations originally tabled by the GMC but disputes the four surrounding the delivery of testosterone to Team Sky and British Cycling headquarters in June 2011.
The central allegation is that he placed the order ‘knowing or believing’ the banned substance was to be administered to a rider. Freeman, who originally denied even placing the order before later admitting it, has claimed it was to treat erectile dysfunction in coach Shane Sutton, who vehemently denied that was the case when he appeared as a witness in December 2019.
The rejection of the latest adjournment application, following repeated delays linked to Freeman’s mental health, means the hearing is still scheduled to wrap up just before the expiry of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s statute of limitations. The 10-year statute, upped from eight in 2015, is understood to apply, giving UK Anti-Doping a small window to table charges if the GMC’s allegations are substantiated.