Expert witnesses & misconduct: “Shaken baby”evidence

Squier v General Medical Council [2016] EWHC 2739 (Admin) saw the court called upon to review the findings of the UK Medical Practitioners Tribunal. The Tribunal had concluded that Dr Squier’s name should be removed from the medical register.

The criticisms directed at Dr Squier related to six babies about whom she had provided reports and given evidence. In each case, two or three allegations were made, to the effect that Dr Squier had (at [6]):

  • Expressed an opinion outside her field of expertise;
  • Made assertions which were insufficiently founded on the evidence available to her; and
  • Purported to rely on research papers which did not support her opinion, in the way suggested by her.

The court concluded at [137] that the determination of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal was flawed in many significant effects, but appears to have focused on the lack of evidence of dishonesty.  Other aspects of the decision were upheld, for example at [102] where some of Dr Squier’s evidence was misleading.

Although the judgment available online does not go on to deal with resultant sanction, the General Medical Council stated:

‘The objectivity and integrity of doctors who act as expert witnesses is paramount and this judgment reinforces the importance of expert witnesses adhering to their duties to the court. When a doctor departs from them in this way, that is a very serious matter for the reputation of the medical profession and public confidence in the profession and the court process.

‘Mr Justice Mitting has confirmed that this case was not about scientific debate and the rights and wrongs of the scientific evidence, but the manner in which Dr Squier gave evidence. The ruling makes clear that she acted irresponsibly in her role as an expert witness on several occasions, acted beyond her expertise and lacked objectivity, and sought to cherry-pick research which it was clear did not support her opinions.

‘The judge found that Dr Squier’s actions amounted to misconduct, that her fitness to practise is impaired and there was a need to restrict her registration.’

BBC news reported that Dr Squier will not be allowed to give expert evidence in court for three years.

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