Care proceedings excluded from review of expert witness cases

Solicitor general Harriet Harman has backtracked over plans to
review civil care proceedings where parents have had their children
removed because they were considered to be at risk.

Last week attorney general Lord Goldsmith ordered a review of the
258 criminal cases where women have been convicted of killing their
babies over the past decade (news, page 6, 22 January).

The review was prompted by the cases of Angela Cannings and Sally
Clark. Both were convicted of killing their children but had their
sentences quashed last year amid concerns about the reliability of
evidence from paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow.

Harman went on to tell the House of Commons that the government
would “ensure not only that injustices in the criminal justice
system, but that any potential injustices in care proceedings, are
identified and acted on”.

But a spokesperson at the attorney general’s office said this week
that there had been a “misunderstanding” and the attorney general’s
review was “limited to criminal cases”.

However, the Department for Education and Skills is still
considering whether the judgement has implications for civil cases,
and could yet announce a review of them too.

Despite claims by children’s minister Margaret Hodge last week that
any review of civil cases involving expert witnesses could run into
“thousands or even tens of thousands” of cases, Association of
Directors of Social Services president Andrew Cozens predicted that
it would involve “hundreds rather than thousands” as only cases
that hinged on the view of an expert witness would be

Andrew Webb, head of children’s services at Cheshire Council and a
member of the government’s 2001 inquiry into induced or fabricated
illness in children stressed that, although Meadow had given expert
evidence in cases including Cannings’ and Clark’s, there was no
suggestion in either case that the children had died as a result of
induced or fabricated illnesses or any link to his theory of
Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy.

Meanwhile, following Goldsmith’s announcement, ministers in
Scotland have asked executive officials to establish whether there
might be similar cases in Scotland.

The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration has begun an
internal review of cases involving MSBP, related infant deaths and
conflicting expert evidence.

l See Behind the Headlines, page 22

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