A leading human rights lawyer has warned expert witnesses that they will be sacrificing their careers in future if they dare to give a minority view.
Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the Reprieve campaign group, said yesterday’s High Court decision to continue Dr Waney Squier’s ban from giving medical evidence would have serious consequences for all experts.
Squier, who gave evidence in criminal trials involving so-called shaken-baby syndrome, was banned from practising in March after the Medical Practitioners Tribunal found she had been dishonest.
That ruling was overturned in the court yesterday, but Mr Justice Mitting imposed conditions on Squier's registration designed to prevent her giving expert evidence again, while allowing her to resume practice and assist in coroners’ courts.
Smith, a prominent critic of the science behind shaken-baby syndrome, likened Squier’s position to the trial of Galileo by the Inquisition for arguing that the earth revolves around the sun.
Smith told the Bond Solon conference in London: ‘If you don’t say in court the majority of opinion disagreed with you, you would get struck off as an expert witness in this country, which is bizarre. [Squier] was punished because she failed to accept that shaken baby syndrome exists.’
The tribunal had concluded that Squier gave deliberately misleading and dishonest evidence for the defence in trials between 2007-10 regarding four babies and a 19-month-old who died after sustaining head injuries.
In his judgment, Mitting said the Medical Practitioners Tribunal had been entitled to find Squier ‘had not been objective and unbiased and failed to pay due regard to the views of other experts’. He added that the tribunal was also entitled to find that her actions and omissions were in some respects irresponsible.
Smith said this effectively amounted to excluding an expert witness for dismissing an opposite view.
He noted there may be widely held views today that in future are proved to be ridiculous. They might not be challenged, he suggested, if experts did not go against the majority view.
‘The whole legal system is structured in a way that is almost designed to come to the wrong conclusion,’ he added.
A spokeswoman for the General Medical Council, which brought the case against the doctor, said the ruling made clear she acted irresponsibly and beyond her expertise.