Expert Witnesses To Be Overhauled

A new centralised system for providing expert medical witnesses to family courts is to be proposed by the chief medical Officer for England.

Sir Liam Donaldson’s plans come amid unease about the role of medical witnesses in alleged child abuse cases. Trials of mothers such as Sally Clark, jailed after being wrongly convicted of killing her two sons, have provoked public anger.

And it is believed medical experts have been deterred from giving evidence.

Currently, solicitors take responsibility for sourcing expert witnesses.

But Sir Liam is due to publish a report on Monday outlining proposed new arrangements.

They would see a more structured system, called the National Knowledge Service, providing a larger pool of expert witnesses as part of the NHS.

There would be new standards, aiming to guarantee the quality of work.

The test of any system would be whether it gives enough incentives for more experts to come forward, and whether courts feel it gives them enough independence.

In the case of Mrs Clark, retired paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow was struck off after giving flawed evidence at her 1999 trial.

He had told a jury there was a “one in 73 million” chance of two children dying from cot deaths in an affluent family.

Mrs Clark’s conviction was later quashed in the Court of Appeal on grounds unrelated to Sir Roy’s evidence.