Where expert witnesses fear to treadBMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7540.500 (Published 02 March 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:500
- M E Jan Wise, consultant in adult psychiatry and chair of BMA medicolegal committee (email@example.com)
- London NW6 6BX
Since 1997 the environment for expert witnesses in the United Kingdom has been increasingly hostile. This is partly because the UK has taken longer to tackle the issue of experts tending to favour the party instructing them. Unfortunately the calm thinking required to examine the merits of differing systems of ensuring impartial advice, which started in the late 1990s, has more recently been clouded by the emotive issues of child protection. The case of Roy Meadow exemplifies the problem—and now may have prompted a series of solutions.
The original case, in which Meadow gave expert evidence against Sally Clark, a mother who was convicted of murdering two of her children,1 appeared to involve the improper use of statistics,2 although the jury was specifically warned against relying on the statistical evidence given. Sally Clark's conviction was later overturned on appeal, not on the basis of Meadow's evidence but after the discovery of medical evidence that the forensic pathologist had not revealed at the original hearing.3 The case aroused a lot of anger among the public and in the media, who saw judges misled and innocent mothers hounded by powerful experts,4 and …