Tighter rules on experts proposed for investigations into infant deaths

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.

The working group, convened last year by the Royal College of
Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,
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 deaths.

The group has concluded that Royal Colleges or professional
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.

The 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 key to establish
areas of conflict.

Andrew Webb, director of social services at Stockport Council and
Association of Directors of Social Services children and family’s
committee spokesperson, who sat on the working group, said: “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 record.

“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.”

The report also calls for more paediatric pathologists experienced
in infant autopsies, and certificated training in the handling of
sudden deaths of infants for social workers, police, ambulance
crews, paramedics and coroners’ officers.

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