Medical student recruitment company sues College of Surgeons

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Ann O'Loughlin

A company which recruited students from Saudi Arabia for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is suing the college in a dispute over the level of fees paid by the students.

The Nahj Company for Services is in the High Court dispute with the college over whether the €16,000 fee for participation in the medical commencement programme was inclusive or exclusive of a €5,000 commission said to be payable to the recruiting company.

The college denies the company's claims.

Fees

Nahj claims Saudi Arabian officials were advised in error that the fee for each student was €21,000 instead of €16,000.

This alleged mistake gave rise to a series of allegations against the college including that between 2010 and 2014, the college allegedly continued to charge that €5,000 fee but sought to disguise this fact by reducing the total fee from €21,000 to €18,000.

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Nahj says that in doing so the college failed to disclose what it says was the previous error - that the €5,000 commission to Nahj was added twice to the actual fee of €11,000 for each student.

Nahj claims the college continued to include a fee of €5,000 which was properly and lawfully due to Nahj.

It says the college wrongfully retained the fee and thereafter caused all or part of the €5,000 to be wrongfully paid to companies called Castel International Ltd and/or an entity known as ICHET.

Fiduciary duty

Nahj says the college owed a duty to act in its best interests, or fiduciary duty, as a partner in the agreement they had reached. It says its conduct amounts to a repudiatory breach of that agreement and breach of that fiduciary duty.

The college, in denying the claims, says it received a directive from the Ministry of Higher Education of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2010, which changed how students from that country were to be recruited.

It meant students would be recruited through the cultural section of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London. The college said it therefore had to cease recruiting in Saudi and the fees charged by the Saudi ministry for students in future were to be reduced in an equal amount to that which had been paid to Nahj.

This rendered the agreement between the college and Nahj impossible to perform, the college said.

Legal issue

The case began in 2012 and a defence was delivered in 2016. As part of pre-trial procedures, the college sought that Nahj answer certain written questions known in legal terms as "interrogatories".

A dispute followed over this with Nahj claiming, among other things, the permission of the court was first required before the delivery of the interrogatories and that the college was using them to avoid having to establish its defence by calling witnesses.

The college denied this and Mr Justice Garrett Simons was asked to resolve the dispute over interrogatories.

In his judgment, he rejected Nahj's objections to answering the interrogatories.

He also directed that all further pre-trial applications in the proceedings be brought before him. "It is a cause of concern that proceedings first instituted in 2012 have not yet been brought on for trial", he said.

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