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31 OCT 2006

Chief Medical Officer's Report on Expert Witnesses

Four days after the Court of Appeal judgment in GMC v Meadow (see below) Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, England's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), produced his long awaited report Bearing Good Witness: Proposals for reforming the delivery of medical expert evidence in family law cases (Department of Health). Published on 30 October 2006, the report was commissioned in 2004, following a series of high profile court cases that called into question the quality of medical expert witnesses in certain types of case.

The report makes 16 proposals. The key proposal is that the NHS should establish teams of specialist doctors and other professionals within local NHS organisations to improve the quality of the medical expert witness service by introducing mentoring, supervision and peer review. A National Knowledge Service to support the medical expert witness programme is also proposed. The measures should avoid the risk of reports for the courts being biased by the view of a particular individual, or lacking in the authority that comes from a sound evidence base. It is also intended to address the difficulty in maintaining an adequate supply of medical expert witnesses. Proposals affecting the NHS will entail developing a new resource for the family courts with the challenges associated with increasing the workforce, modernising roles and regulation, and improving competence through education and training.The report also considers:

  • how the new service could be commissioned in the future;
  • looking into how the NHS teams could be accredited; a new national knowledge service to provide the medical expert witness programme with advice on the state of current scientific knowledge;
  • training on the knowledge and skills needed in court settings to be part of basic and continuing medical education.

Meanwhile, the report suggests a checklist to be used by the legal professions to establish the credentials of prospective medical expert witnesses.

The CMO report, a statistical survey and the consultation question are all available on the Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk/Consultations/LiveConsultations/fs/en. The consultation closes on 28 February 2007. See December [2006] Fam Law for the full news article.

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