General Medical Council wrong place to deal with medicine and the law

According to an article in the current edition of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, Professor Roy Meadow should not be found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, says that facts and fairness demand that Meadow should be cleared of misconduct.

Horton believes that legal rather than medical error took place during the trial of Sally Clark, and states that the case against Meadow is not only unjust, but threatens the effective delivery of child protection services in Britain.

The General Medical Council (GMC) is not, says Horton, the place to arbitrate the complex aspects of medicine’s interaction with the law.

He says Meadow should not have been referred to the GMC.

Horton is calling on the government to create a Royal Commission to investigate, and make, urgently needed recommendations concerning the use of experts by the courts.

He says on the available evidence presented at the original trial, and at two subsequent appeals, it is quite clear that Meadow should not be found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Rather than concentrating on the actions of one individual, who inevitably becomes a public symbol and scapegoat for the weaknesses of an entire system, a broader approach is needed in order to learn lessons from how unsafe convictions are arrived at, as in the case of Sally Clark.

The activities need to be considered, of the police, pathologists, lawyers, judges, expert witnesses, and juries, all together.

Horton says the cause of death of Sally Clark’s two sons still remains unascertained, and the GMC cannot be the place to arbitrate on such complex and contingent aspects of medicine.

He says the best way to improve the judicial system in this respect, would be through a Royal Commission, irrespective of the outcome, which would be the only way to secure and strengthen child protection services in the UK, whose effectiveness currently "hangs in the balance”.

The editorial is published in the current edition of the Lancet.

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