The High Court has ruled that the General Medical Council acted unlawfully in refusing an overseas doctor full registration by applying a stricter test than that given to UK graduates.
The council said last night that it was considering taking the case to the Court of Appeal because the implications of the ruling could affect hundreds of overseas doctors who seek full medical registration each year. Without registration, a doctor cannot practice medicine in the UK.
Yesterday's decision came in the case of Dr Balbir Singh Virik, 44, of Swindon, Wiltshire, who has worked in the UK for 10 years on limited registration.
Mr Justice Carnwath ruled that the council had applied a higher test than that used for domestically-trained practitioners, instead of properly deciding whether or not all the evidence established Dr Virik's competence for full registration under the 1983 Medical Act.
A practitioner trained in the UK is able to gain full registration as a doctor after one year as a houseman or housewoman.
Dr Virik came to Britain in 1982 and worked with limited registration. His application for full registration was refused in 1992 and upheld by the council's review body in 1993.
The council was refused permission to appeal but is now expected to ask the Court of Appeal to consider the case because of its implications for medical registration.
The judge said Dr Virik was born in Malaysia and qualified as a doctor in his home country and India before gaining limited registration to practise in Britain in August 1982.
He said Dr Virik had been forced to take "irrelevant" jobs to support his wife and family but had always kept in touch with his profession.
Dr Virik, on income support and unable to practise because his limited registration has expired, said: "I am personally very pleased. I will now press ahead to get full registration."
John Wardley, his solicitor, said that unlike British graduates, Dr Virik had successfully worked for nearly five years as a senior house officer, including periods as a registrar, and was still refused registration.
Dr Akram Sayeed, chairman of the Overseas' Doctors Association, welcomed the ruling. "It is a victory in a long struggle. To my knowledge several hundred overseas doctors are refused registration every year. A sizeable number find themselves in this unfortunate situation."
However, the council sought to lessen the impact of the ruling yesterday. In a statement, the council said that it "understood the judgement was based on the facts of this individual case and was in relation to a particular decision".
It said that the judge had stated there had been no breach of the Race Relations Act. When the council has studied the ruling fully, "consideration will be given to an appeal. If the council decided not to appeal, the review board will reconsider Dr Virik's application."