Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Medico-Legal Expert Witnesses – The Start of a Reform

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO, Sir Liam Donaldson pictured left) is proposing a radical overhaul of the current medico-legal expert system to improve the quality of the service and to ensure a sustainable supply of expert witnesses. The report Bearing Good Witness: Proposals for reforming the delivery of medical expert evidence in family law cases has been launched for a period of public consultation ending on 28th February 2007. The report was originally commissioned in response to some very high profile court cases. One such case, involved the memorable flawed statistical evidence given by Professor Sir Roy Meadow that initially helped convict Sally Clark of killing her two sons.

The CMO’s key proposal is that the NHS should establish teams of specialist doctors and other professionals within local NHS organisations. These teams would be offered mentoring, supervision, peer review and teaching of skills required for court appearances. Currently, the proposals are focused on developing the guidelines for the family courts, however, it is easy to see how these proposals could be rolled out as generic guidelines for all medico-legal expert witnesses.

These proposals come in the wake of legal wranglings as to the professional position of experts in legal proceedings. In 2005, a High Court ruling offered immunity to medico-legal experts from disciplinary proceedings for evidence given in court. However, this has recently been overturned in the Court of Appeal. This was welcomed by the General Medical Council whose Chief Executive Finlay Scott said that they did not believe in any immunity solution “that placed doctors and other professionals beyond the reach of their regulator.”

Overall, it seems that combining accountability with support for medico-legal experts is a welcome combination.

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1 comment:

CoralPoetry said...


This is an open letter to Prof Hamblin who has blocked replies at his blog.

Professor Hamblin,

Your erroneous original thoughts still stand here. Yes, the Internet is a big place, but not for an 8-year old grieving boy whose name is on your blog.

I actually have more respect for Roy Meadows who has maintained a respectful silence (who carried out his job to the best of his ability, armed with the technology at the time) than I have for you, a person armed with hindsight who says:

“Perhaps Clark was possessed by guilt that she really had killed her kids.”

One of her babies died of a staph infection. How do you justify this argument, which you posted 24 hours after her death? How can she kill her baby by staph? You and I are both armed with hindsight.

One of these “kids” is an 8-year-old boy who is likely to be reading your message.

You also say: "Sally Clark has died in suspicious circumstances."

As a medical professional, how can you suggest these are the circumstances 48 hours before a post mortem?

OK, I accept this is doctor’s jargon for “sudden death” but to the layperson (including an 8-year old boy) this means foul play or murder. How would you explain that supposition to the other occupant of her house when he reads this message at your blog?

If I were you and I chose to leave the original post here indefinitely, I would be looking to compensating this little boy in monetary terms. I think you should admit your error by sending this boy (the deceased's son) a cheque for an amount no less than £100,000 as compensation in the event he reads these inaccurate and malicious slurs against his late mother.