Intended for healthcare professionals


How doctors' anonymity in family courts is under threat

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 09 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1024
  1. Jonathan Gornall (

Parents, their advocates, and journalists are campaigning to end secrecy—and it could mean paediaticians' identities are no longer protected

It's not every day that you see a solicitor done up to the nines, wearing snakeskin-print shoes and strutting her stuff for a fashion magazine outside the Royal Courts of Justice. But then it's not every day that a solicitor finds herself elevated to the status of media hero after being suspended for misleading a High Court judge and unlawfully distributing confidential family court papers.

The appearance in the pages of Harper's Bazaar in March this year of Sarah Harman, celebrated by the magazine as a “freedom fighter” for her campaign to “end the invidious secrecy of our family courts,” was a measure of the extent to which the media has driven the campaign to influence government policy in this vital area of child protection.

The coverage of the case that catapulted Harman to fame also offered an insight into the world of collusion between parents, their advocates, and agenda-driven journalism that has fuelled so many of what Professor Alan Craft, then president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, described—in a letter to all members and fellows of the college on 11 February 2004—as the “unprecedented number of media attacks on paediatricians.” The impact on child protection, he said, had been enormous. In five years, one in 10 paediatricians had been the subject of a complaint relating to child protection work. Many were now “reluctant to act as expert witnesses in these complex cases,” Professor Craft said in a letter to the Times on 2 February 2004.

Now, as the campaigners for more transparency in the family courts seem certain to get their way, the threat of campaigns against individual experts looms over those whose evidence has, until …

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