A report was commissioned of the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon Friend for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), and the then Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families, Department for Education and Skills, my right. hon Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge).
The Chief Medical Officer was asked to consider the role of medical expert witnesses in relation to family law cases and in particular to examine the experts’ participation throughout the process, and the competencies needed; to examine evidence of best practice for expert witnesses; to identify a template and portfolio of medical skills by which a practitioner may be regarded as competent to offer evidence, and to advise on a sustainable supply of competent, quality-assured expert medical witnesses.
Sir Liam reported to Ministers at the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills in 2005, in his independent capacity as Chief Medical Officer for England and chief medical advisor to the United Kingdom Government. I have been considering the next steps, in consultation with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) and the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, and we are pleased to announce that we have decided Sir Liam's report should form the basis for a consultation document, and be published for a period of public consultation. The report has been placed in the Library and is available on the Department's website at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/Consultations/LiveConsultations/fs/en.
It is of paramount importance that we secure medical expertise in family law proceedings in the interests of children and families whose future lives depend upon the integrity and quality of judgments delivered in public law Children Act cases. I hope and expect that the consultation process will draw responses from the widest spectrum of interested parties and organisations who are affected by, and who work with and within the court system.