Dr Wouter Basson was head of the apartheid government's chemical and biological warfare programme. Picture: Oupa Mokoena
Pretoria - Cardiologist Dr Wouter Basson got a lifeline when the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to reconsider his application for the recusal of the chairperson and a committee member in his disciplinary inquiry.

Basson wanted the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) professional conduct committee chairperson, Professor Jannie Hugo, as well as committee member Professor Eddie Mhlanga recused on the grounds they were biased.

They were allegedly connected to an organisation that endorsed a petition to scrap him from the register of medical practitioners.

Basson, who practised in the Western Cape, was charged in 2007 with unprofessional conduct. His alleged conduct related to his involvement in the apartheid regime’s chemical and biological warfare research during his employment with the SA Defence Force in the 1980s.

Basson, who was nicknamed in many quarters as “Dr Death” years ago, faced a lengthy trial in the high court stemming from his research project at the time, called Project Coast.

Evidence was presented to the court during his criminal trial of James Bond-type gadgets such as a deadly umbrella, allegedly with poisoned spikes used to eliminate "the enemy”.The court acquitted Basson in 2002 of all wrongdoing, but complaints were lodged against him with the HPCSA that he had acted unethically by, among others, making cyanide capsules available to operatives.

Basson, in his defence, claimed he acted as a soldier and not a doctor as head of the project. But the committee found in 2013 that Basson had breached the ethical rules of the medical profession and he was convicted on four charges.

The pro forma prosecutor called Martin Heywood, a director of a law clinic, as a witness in aggravation of a sanction against Basson.

Heywood submitted two petitions to scrap Basson’s name from the register of medical practitioners. One of the petitions was supported by various organisations, including the SA Medical Association and the Rural Doctors Association of SA.

Basson’s advocate, Jaap Cilliers SC, at the time asked whether the members of the committee were members of any of these organisations. They refused to divulge this information and the sentencing proceedings were ordered to go ahead.

Basson and his team then staged a walkout and turned to the court to have the members recuse themselves. His sentencing proceedings have since been placed on hold.

The high court turned this application down, but then Acting Judge David Unterhalter found that Basson had not exhausted his internal remedies.

The judge found that Basson had the right to appeal any finding at the end of the disciplinary hearing.

Judge Unterhalter also found that the appeal body of the HPCSA committee should address Basson’s concerns rather than the court’s.

Basson appealed this ruling before the Supreme Court of Appeal and said it would cause him irreparable harm if he was sanctioned by the same people he wanted to have recused.

His said this case was exceptional and warranted the court to step in before it was too late. Five judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal agreed.

In upholding Basson’s appeal, they ordered that the matter had to be remitted to the high court to decide afresh on his recusal application.

Pretoria News