There must be a compulsory national protocol for the
investigation of sudden unexpected deaths in infants, and only
accredited and trained expert witnesses should be used in court
cases, a Royal Colleges working group has concluded, writes Paul
The working group, convened last year by the Royal College of
Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
and chaired by Baroness Kennedy, was set up after the acquittal of
Sally Clark, who had been convicted of murdering her babies.
The cases of Trupti Patel and Angela Cannings, who were both found
not guilty of their babies’ murders, also highlighted the
need for change in investigations into unexplained infant
The group has concluded that Royal Colleges or specialty
associations should accredit experts, and that doctors should have
special instruction on the role of the expert witness before
holding themselves up as court experts.
Its report says doctors “sometimes fail to appreciate that
there is a difference between the role and expectations of
professional and expert witnesses”.
The report calls for pre-trial meetings of experts to take place
before criminal cases where expert testimony is central to
establish areas of conflict.
Andrew Webb, director of social services at Stockport Metropolitan
Borough Council and ADSS children and family’s committee
spokesperson, sat on the working group. He told Community Care:
“What is being advocated is a system where we should have
accreditation for witnesses, and some sort of register which will
enable judges to know they are getting someone with a proven track
“In some of the areas we are talking about, the level of
expertise required is quite remarkable, and people need to have
kept fully up to date in their field.”