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Chapter 4: Serious professional misconduct

Important guidance on the standards expected of expert witnesses was given by the Court of Appeal in General Medical Council v Meadow [2006] EWCA Civ 1390.
Prof. Meadows, who lacked a sufficient statistical background, incorrectly applied probability theory to the death of a child in such a way as to make it almost impossible for the jury in a murder trial to conclude that the child had died naturally by what is called sudden infant death syndrome. He made the situation worse by his use of a striking, but incorrect analogy from horserace betting.
The Master of the Rolls, accepted that Prof Meadows did not intend to mislead the jury and commented. 'It will be a rare case in which a person should be held to be guilty of serious professional misconduct in the absence of bad faith.' Auld LJ, in a judgment with which Thorpe LJ agreed, accepted that Prof Meadows was guilty of professional misconduct, but not serious professional misconduct. He quoted Sir Louis Blom Cooper to the effect that the adjudication that Sir Roy was guilty of serious professional misconduct - and hence struck off the register of medical practitioners - 'was not just a disproportionate finding and/or penalty. It was fundamentally flawed, since it perceived Sir Roy's error as part of his professional service; whereas his mistake or misjudgement had properly to be viewed in the context of the criminal trial….'
Comment: As the Court observed, the question of whether professional misconduct is 'serious' or not is 'a value judgement upon which differently constituted panels might reasonably differ'. In this case three judges (one at first instance and two appeal judges) held that the doctor's misconduct was not 'serious', while the Master of the Rolls (the most senior of the judges involved) and the doctor's professional body, to whose judgement the courts so often defer in such matters, held that it was. It was a close thing

 

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