Consultation document: Bearing good witness - Proposals for reforming the delivery of expert evidence in family law cases
Heenan, S. and Heenan, A. (2007) Consultation document: Bearing good witness - Proposals for reforming the delivery of expert evidence in family law cases. Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 29 (2). pp. 151-161. ISSN 0964-9069
Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09649060701666630
Several high‐profile criminal cases, such as those of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings, Trupti Patel and Donna Anthony – all wrongly convicted of the murder of their children on the basis of flawed expert evidence – have raised serious questions about the use, nature and quality of expert evidence in such cases. As well as the injustice and suffering inflicted on innocent families, the publicity surrounding these cases has seriously undermined public confidence in the criminal justice system. Further, this publicity has deterred suitably qualified clinicians, already in short supply, from acting as expert witnesses. In the wake of these cases, the government commissioned the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, to produce proposals for the reform of expert evidence in family law cases more generally. Such reform was long overdue since there were already serious concerns about unacceptable delays in cases where experts were instructed. These delays were attributed partly to a significant increase in the number of experts being instructed, their limited availability for hearings and the late submission of reports to the court. Such issues are addressed in the Report from Sir Liam Donaldson on this issue, which concentrates on public law proceedings in Children Act cases and makes 16 proposals for reform. As the Report makes clear, the issues raised are relevant to medical evidence in both criminal and Children Act cases.
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