Expert witnesses lose immunity from censure in Meadow case

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The Independent Online

Doctors who give inaccurate or negligent expert evidence in court have lost the right to immunity from disciplinary action by their professional body after judges upheld an appeal brought by the General Medical Council.

The case follows the GMC's decision to discipline Professor Sir Roy Meadow over his discredited evidence in the wrongful murder convictions of the solicitor Sally Clark.

In their reserved ruling delivered yesterday, the appeal judges accepted arguments by the GMC and the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith that there was no such thing as immunity for experts. But the court agreed with a previous ruling that Professor Meadow's evidence did not represent serious professional misconduct.

After the ruling, Professor Meadow, 73, who is retired, said he was glad that the judgment accepted he had not committed serious professional misconduct.

The GMC's chief executive, Finlay Scott, said the decision to contest the earlier High Court ruling had been vindicated. "The public must be confident that doctors and other professionals who give evidence in court proceedings can, if necessary, be held to account," he said.

Soon after the Court of Appeal quashed his daughter's convictions for murder, Ms Clark's father complained to the GMC that the professor's evidence amounted to serious professional misconduct. But Ms Clark's family last night welcomed the court's decision. In a statement they said they were "pleased that common sense has prevailed and that the Court of Appeal has decided that experts who give flawed evidence should not be immune from disciplinary proceedings by their professional bodies".

Professor Meadow was subsequently found guilty by the GMC in July last year. But the High Court judge Mr Justice Collins said in a ruling earlier this year that it was "quite unnecessary" to erase from the medical register someone like Professor Meadow, whom he said was a first-class paediatrician.

Dr Patricia Hamilton, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it would work with the GMC to ensure paediatricians were not deterred from their responsibilities in safeguarding children.