What is the legal standing of clinical practice guidelines? Judicial comment on the legal status of these and similar guidelines is rare; however, it does exist in Australia and may be good news for doctors as evidenced by this recent case.
A judge in the Supreme Court of Tasmania has declared that a set of well-endorsed, national guidelines for health professionals has no statutory basis and that there is no ground for elevating it to the status of law. The legal standing of the guidelines ‘Assessing fitness to drive. Austroads guidelines for health professionals and their legal obligations’ was established by Mr Justice Crawford when he gave his reasons for quashing an earlier judicial decision.
The Supreme Court case arose when a lower court upheld the cancellation of a driver’s licence due to visual acuity poorer than that specified in the guidelines. Austroads is the association of Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic authorities, including state and federal transport departments. The guidelines have the approval of 11 medical organisations or societies, including the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association.