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System failure at heart of child abuse case disasters

System failure lies at the heart of the current crisis surrounding cases of suspected child abuse, argues a retired paediatrician in this week's BMJ.

The recent quashing of Sally Clark's conviction for the murder of two of her children and the collapse of the case against Trupti Patel have shaken public confidence. But we need to look less critically at the people caught in the spotlight, and more at the systems failure involved, writes Edmund Hey.

Instead, steps to reform the use of expert testimony in criminal cases and improve pathology services in the UK would help to minimise potential miscarriages of justice.

Many pediatricians are also becoming increasingly reluctant to become involved in child protection work for fear that this will trigger a formal complaint, a disciplinary hearing, and even litigation, adds the author. There is a temptation to avoid all involvement and say that these things are a matter for social services or for the police. However, he warns that uncertainty as to where prime responsibility lies has been at the heart of many recent disasters.

Ultimately it is for the courts to make these difficult judgements, but they cannot do this without medical help. Doctors, being human, will sometimes give flawed advice. There needs to be a robust system in place, in all our courts, to see that this does not result in a miscarriage of justice, he concludes.


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Contact: Emma Dickinson
edickinson@bmj.com
44-0-20-7383-6529
BMJ-British Medical Journal
7-Aug-2003


Page: 1

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