Australia aims for list of expert medical witnesses

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 16 September 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:709

Australian doctors are investigating using accredited medical witnesses to give evidence at trials involving charges of negligence and criminal behaviour. The new medicolegal committee of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) is considering how professional panels of experts might keep bad science out of the courts.

Charlotte Blomberg, the AMA's legal adviser said, “There is the potential for difficult cases to degenerate into these battles of the experts. We don't want that.” She said that the committee had been formed after concern among doctors about several controversial cases. These included the case of a 29 year old woman who successfully sued her general practitioner and a pathology service for failing to detect her cervical cancer.

Under the AMA's proposal specialist colleges will compile lists of practitioners whom they regard as experts. Then the court, or any party, can call an accredited expert who is recognised by that expert's peers. “Just because you are a doctor doesn't mean that you are an expert and qualified to speak about all clinical practices,” said Ms Blomberg.

She said that the proposal did not imply that the only evidence that would be considered to carry any weight in court would be that provided by accredited experts. The panel system is designed to make sure witnesses are practising and are up to date.—CHRISTOPHER ZINN, Australian correspondent, Guardian

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