Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


The evidence base in child protection litigation

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 20 July 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:160

Rapid Response:

The General Public needs legal protection too

Dr Chadwick states that: "Medical expert witnesses need legal
protection too, to use the evidence effectively".

I would like to ask why do medical expert witnesses need legal
protection? If they are testifying in a court of law why would legal
protection be required? Does this mindset not leave itself open to
criticism or ridicule if using evidence effectively is a criteria for
conviction? Isn't one's responsibility to use medical evidence honestly,
rather than effectively?

An almost unassailable mountain of advice and contradiction, claim
and counter-claim has arisen over the past decade or so, none moreso in
the medical environment than in the area of child abuse and child
protection. Too many involved in a professional response are caught up
and swept along by what is topical, rather than having the ability or
freedom to be able to think for themselves, in order to challenge that
which may not be right - thereby causing an imbalance of the facts -
significantly weighted against the individual; be they the victim of
abuse, or the perpetrator.

But what is child abuse? Is there a specific definition that people
can identify with? As recently as a generation ago, most of what is now
perceived as child-abuse would have been viewed as discipline. But
successive liberal policies adopted predominantly by the incumbent
government have eroded family values, undermining all that was once viewed
a necessary part of growing up as to now be frowned upon. Parents have
been emascualted of many of their former parental rights and in its place
we have ASBOs !

Yet an army of child protection officanado have sprung up to pre-empt
child abuse occurring, without realising or understanding that child abuse
often cannot be prevented. This is the one fundamental difference between
all the health professionals/social workers and the general public. The
layman understands that child abuse happens as surely as night follows day
- even knowing that sometimes it may be excessive. How can a parent
discipline a child if doing so now potentially elicits a lablel of child
abuse? Where is balance - and reason? A much greater wrong is done when
innocent children die and those who set themselves up as experts fail to
prevent it. Or when experts use their knowledge effectively, instead of
honestly, which may lead to wrongful convictions of innocent people.

Child abuse happens. It often cannot be prevented. To try to do so
is like trying to pre-empt the direction of the wind. Understanding the
direction of the wind is possible, preventing it is not.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

25 July 2006
Elizabeth Marsh