Judge hits out at paediatrician for ‘inexcusable’ failure to respond in case relating to child’s welfare

A paediatrician instructed as an expert medical witness in a family court case has come under fire from a judge after failing to respond to messages.

Judge Elizabeth Walker said Dr Russell Austin had “failed to communicate” with her or anyone involved in the case for more than six months.

She said his “failure to comply with his professional obligations” was “unexplained and inexcusable”.

The judge said she would bring her concerns to the attention of Dr Austin’s professional body.

Judge Walker criticised Dr Austin in a ruling on the case, published online following a private family court hearing in Coventry in December.

She said the case centred on a child who had suffered injuries.

Council social services bosses with responsibility for the child’s care had asked her to make rulings relating to the child’s welfare.

The judge said the child could not be identified in media reports.

Judge Walker indicated she had approved the instruction of Dr Austin as an expert medical witness early in 2021.

She said he had provided a report as directed in May, but had then stopped communicating.

The judge said she had personally emailed Dr Austin after a hearing in August, but received no reply.

“In short, he has failed to communicate with any party or the court since that time in any way whatsoever,” she said.

“After the hearing on 20 August, when the situation was brought to my attention, I took steps to email Dr Austin personally.

“Such was the bizarre nature of his blanket failure to respond in any way to communication, I was concerned that there may be personal or sensitive reasons for Dr Austin’s default, and I wanted to afford him an opportunity to communicate those to the court.

“I received no response at all.”

The judge said she had “in desperation” authorised the issue of witness summons.

He had twice been served with summons but had not complied, she said.

“Dr Austin’s failure to comply with his professional obligations is unexplained and inexcusable,” said Judge Walker.

“He has failed to comply with two witness summons, which I remind myself is a criminal offence for which I could… have him arrested.”

She said a copy of her ruling would be sent to Dr Austin’s professional body.

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