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Shaken baby expert witness wins High Court appeal

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i5985 (Published 08 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5985

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Re: Shaken baby expert witness wins High Court appeal

In response to Clare Dyer’s article, Dr Geddes has pointed out the injustice suffered by the doctors who testified as defence experts on behalf of Dr Squier and who have no channel for complaint about or response to the Tribunal’s criticisms of them.

Like Dr Geddes I gave evidence before the MPTS Tribunal for Dr Squier, but as a character witness testifying to her dedication, integrity and commitment to justice. I also testified about the difficulties confronting defence expert witnesses in criminal trials where the prosecution may have a battery of experts from different specialisms but, due to the restrictions on legal aid, the defence only one. Nobody challenged a word of my evidence. Yet the Tribunal in its judgment said of me that it believed that I “lacked some credibility”. Friends and colleagues were astonished by this gratuitous attack on my integrity. So was Mr Justice Mitting, who in his appeal judgment said that these words were the “most egregious example” of findings about defence witnesses which were “as expressed untenable” and that there was “no foundation” for them.

Frankly the absurd slur on my reputation did not trouble me very much. What troubled me far more was the point Dr Geddes makes in her letter: that if experts asked to testify for the defence before an MPTS Tribunal have reason to fear that they may be subject to a gratuitous attack in the judgement, they are likely to refuse. Doctors accused of professional misconduct may find themselves unable to call expert evidence vital to their defence. Dr Geddes is quite right. The GMC Council needs to examine as a matter of urgency what went wrong in this case; how Tribunal members are trained; what guidelines should now be issued and what steps can be taken to prevent recurrence of a situation where a Tribunal whose remit was to examine the alleged misconduct of one doctor ended up by defaming a number of others.

Yours Sincerely

Michael Birnbaum QC

9 – 12 Bell Yard
London WC2A 2JR

Competing interests: I was called as a witness for Dr Squier and was criticised by the Tribunal.

16 November 2016
Michael I. Birnbaum
Queen's Counsel
9 - 12 Bell Yard, London, WC2A 2JR