An eagerly anticipated review of the role of expert witnesses in
the family courts, ordered more than a year ago after the Angela
Cannings judgment, is unlikely to be published until the end of the
year, Community Care has learned.
The review was ordered in June 2004 by the then children’s
minister, Margaret Hodge, after concerns over evidence from
paediatricians including Professor Sir Roy Meadow.
He was struck off the medical register last week after being found
guilty of serious professional misconduct in a case where his
evidence led to the conviction of another mother, Sally Clark, for
killing her two babies.
He had told a jury there was a one in 73 million chance of two cot
deaths occurring in her family, but the General Medical Council
ruled that his evidence was seriously misleading.
Although the Clark case was a criminal one, the adverse publicity
surrounding Meadow has deterred paediatricians from acting as
expert witnesses in the family courts. Practitioners had hoped the
review, which is being conducted by the chief medical officer, Sir
Liam Donaldson, would make recommendations about how to tackle this
Family court insiders say the Meadow verdict will not help. Malcolm
Richardson, chair of the Magistrates Association’s family
proceedings committee, said: “It’s difficult to see how it can
enhance the chances of doctors volunteering to do this work,
whether in the family or the criminal courts.”
However, a source told Community Care this week that
publication of Sir Liam’s report had been delayed by the general
election and it would probably not go to ministers until
Meanwhile, a new scheme that aims to improve investigations into
child deaths is to be piloted from October in Wales, Northern
Ireland, and the South West and North East of England.
Dr Harvey Marcovitch, spokesman for the Royal College of
Paediatrics and Child Health, said he hoped the child death review
teams would “stop the issue of experts arguing in court some years
after the event about what a child might have died from”.
Every death of a child aged up to 16 will be reported to the teams,
which would “very thoroughly” investigate the cause of death,
The project is being run by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal
and Child Health, which is managed by six organisations including
the RCPCH and Royal College of Pathologists.