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Issues -Child abuse - Review of child abuse experts

Expert evidence was discredited in the case of Angela Cannings The results of this survey should not give rise to complacency
Children's Minister
Margaret Hodge

Child abuse experts facing review

A high level review of the way expert witnesses are used in child abuse cases in family courts is to take place. Children's Minister Margaret Hodge said Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson would carry out the inquiry. It follows the case of Angela Cannings, cleared of killing two of her children when expert evidence was ruled unsound.

Mrs Hodge also released the results of a first review into disputed cases of children being taken into care, which has questioned 47 out of 5,175 cases. She said the government's moves were in response to "widespread concern" about the "quality and validity of evidence" given by medical expert witnesses in court.
The review asked local authorities to look at how many cases where children are currently in the process of being taken into care could be affected by the Cannings judgement last December.

A spokesman for the Children's Minister told BBC News Online nine of the 47 cases in question had been concluded, with a change of decision in only one.
In a statement, Mrs Hodge said: "The results of this survey should not give rise to complacency that the interests of children and their families are being optimally served.

Suspected abuse
"We are therefore also announcing today a programme of work to determine how best to ensure the availability and quality of medical expert resources to the family courts."

A local authority review of 30,000 cases where children have been taken into care in the past, on the basis of disputed medical evidence, is still in progress.
Mrs Hodge is expected to announce its findings in a few months' time.
Sir Liam will concentrate on the role of experts in family courts, where judges decide whether a child should be taken into care on the grounds of suspected abuse.

Convictions overturned
He will also look at how to ensure enough child abuse experts of sufficiently high standing can be found to give evidence. His report to ministers is expected early next year. The Court of Appeal decided to overturn Mrs Cannings' 2002 conviction for smothering her two sons after evidence from cot death expert Sir Roy Meadow was discredited.

Another mother, Sally Clark, was also cleared of murder after also being convicted on the basis of Professor Meadow's evidence.

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