Attorney General steps into Meadow case
Saturday 20 May 2006
The High Court decided in February that the General Medical Council (GMC) did not have the power to strike off doctors who made mistakes as expert witnesses in court. Lord Goldsmith has asked for permission to help in a Court of Appeal challenge of this. He will support the GMC's right to take disciplinary action in such cases.
Lord Goldsmith, the Government's senior law officer, said of February's ruling: "I think that decision is wrong in principle. The public does deserve a degree of protection from people who go to extremes and go beyond their field of expertise, or give views which are not properly supported." The appeal by the GMC will not affect Professor Meadow's position, but will focus on its ability to consider similar cases in future.
Lord Goldsmith added: "I am not taking sides. I am concerned with the question of whether someone who goes to court and gives expert evidence should be immune from action by disciplinary bodies. I think this is a very important point of public interest principle."
The High Court hearing before Mr Justice Collins ruled that not only was the GMC unjustified in making a finding of serious professional misconduct, it had no right to pursue the complaint in the first place. The judge said expert witnesses must be immune from disciplinary action - save in exceptional circumstances - so they are not deterred from coming forward. He said it was "quite unnecessary" to erase from the medical register someone such as Professor Meadow whom he described as a first-class paediatrician to whom many families owed much.
In 1998, Sally Clark was arrested over the deaths of her sons, Christopher and Harry. At her trial in Chester Crown Court, Professor Meadow said there was a "one in 73 million" chance of two children dying from cot deaths in an affluent family. Mrs Clark's conviction was quashed in the Court of Appeal because Professor Meadow, now 73, had made a mistake in interpreting statistics.
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