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Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman seems to be making a statement, but he should be asking questions. This is an important matter and I must allow the Solicitor-General to answer the points that he has made. We will leave it at that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the central review team. Once again, I would like to thank Howard Cohen and the central review team for the work of looking
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independently into these cases. I can confirm that the review went wider than the Cannings judgment and the number of cases involved. We examined not only cases where two children had died but those where one had died, and we included cases of infants up to two years old, whereas the Cannings case and sudden infant death syndrome cases generally apply to one-year-olds. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we also went back 10 years.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the report on Dr. Williams. We identified some additional cases in which Dr. Williams was involved that do not necessarily involve deaths or children. Of course, Dr. Willliams's work ranged quite widely. We are looking into those cases, particularly in respect of whether disclosure was properly carried out, and we will report back as soon as we have the information. I can confirm that Dr. Williams and Professor Meadow are the subject of proceedings before the General Medical Council and I understand that the next stage will be reached early in the new year. I reaffirm that there is no prohibition on any case, regardless of whether it is within the 10-year limit or prior to it. Anyone in those circumstances can ask for the details of their case to be looked into.
I was also asked whether expert testimony should be subject to challenge in the family courts in the way that it is in the criminal courts. Of course, it is the case that, where expert testimony is central to how a child is going to be cared for, rigorous investigation and challenging of the expert evidence is important.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the important principles surrounding the problem. Our important principles are that, where a child has died and a criminal offence has been committed, a guilty person must be brought to justice, but an innocent person must be left to grieve over what must be the worst thing that can happen to anybody.
Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): Clearly, the Law Officers are to be complimented on the speed with which they acted post-Cannings, on the generosity of the terms of reference and on the rigour with which they carried out the task. Does my right hon. and learned Friend have the slightest concernI want to ask her this in the gentlest possible waythat where her review of a little fewer than 300 cases produced 28 worrying cases, a review of all the care cases in Great Britain28,607 post-Cannings family law casesproduced a change to only one care plan?
The 28 cases that we referred were a cause for concern and we asked for them to be looked into again. As I emphasised, we are not certain whether it will change the outcome in those cases, but we believe that they should be examined again. The Minister for Children, Young People and Families fully set out the basis for, and findings of, her review to the House on 2 November. I am not sure that it is easy to take one lot of numbers and compare them with another lot of numbers. That Minister has worked with her officials and with social services, and we have worked with the Crown Prosecution Service. She is also considering the issue of expert evidence. We will report back to the House in the spring, when the chief medical officer makes his report to her and other Ministers about the use of experts in family cases.
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Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): My constituent Angela Cannings and her familyand indeed the family of Sally Clark, who is also my constituentwent through hell over a very long period. I compliment the Solicitor-General on her sensitive handling of the issue, but does she agree that if public confidence is to be restored, expert evidence must be reviewed much earliernot afterwards, on appeal. Where the wheels of justice quite properly grind slowly, it seems to me that modern medicine, including medical knowledge and forensic science, is moving at an ever increasing speed. Is it not therefore a good idea to have a cross-Government inquiry or some sort of policy to deal with the problem of the quality of expert advice at the earliest possible stageperhaps even before the Crown Prosecution Service has decided whether a case should proceed? That might have helped to cut out the years of heartache that those families had to suffer.
The Solicitor-General: We are doing exactly what the hon. Gentleman suggests. What he says is right. The medical profession, people working in social services and the criminal justice agencies all work together on a multi-agency basis, which allows full disclosure and regular scrutiny of the credentials of expert witnesses. Regular protocols emerge out of Court of Appeal cases and are acted on. It is always a risk to be too categorical, but I believe that, after the awful suffering in the cases of Angela Cannings and Sally Clark, all parts of the system have been determined to learn the lessons and are continuing to learn them.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear it in mind that every child must be protected and that these are extraordinarily difficult cases? Will she also be sensitive in presenting the results, because one of the worst possible outcomes of the inquiry would be if the medical profession, in attempting to protect itself, distanced itself from difficult cases, thus allowing some guilty people to escape proper prosecution?
The Solicitor-General: I am sure that the whole House agrees with my hon. Friend that every child must be protected and that these cases are incredibly difficult. Essentially, one does not know whether one is dealing with a tragic bereavement or a homicide. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the senior lawyers in the CPS around the country, who handle these cases with as much sensitivity and professionalism as could possibly be expected of them. My hon. Friend spoke of the importance of expert witnesses playing their part. They do play their part, and it is very important that they understand that we support the role that expert evidence plays and that we recognise that it has improved and enabled cases to be brought that might have gone undetected in the past. In the end, we must bear it in mind that, if a child's death is the result of a criminal act, the offender must be brought to justice. If it is not the result of a criminal act, we must make sure that the innocent parents are left to grieve.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con):
I also welcome this report and the way that the Solicitor-General's Department has handled it. However, as the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird)
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noted, the figures are worrying. It is a cause for concern that 10 per cent. of reviewed cases are to be referred. Almost one third of cases involve shaken baby syndrome, which is controversial and subject to developing scientific inquiry that may not be reviewed by case law until next summer. That is very worrying.
As the interview with Angela Cannings the other day showed, the long-term traumatic effects on people subsequently freed, and their children, are very alarming. I have one specific question for the Solicitor-General. When this matter first became known, we identified as a priorityand she agreedthe cases of siblings whose parents had been prosecuted in connection with child deaths. How many sibling children are involved in the 28 cases to which reference has been made, and in the 89 shaken baby cases? How many children have been taken into care already, and how many into permanent adoption? What interim measures is she taking in respect of sibling children to make sure that, if their parents' imprisonment is subsequently found not to have been justified, they can be returned to their rightful homes?
The Solicitor-General: We have reported the names of the children involved in those 28 cases to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families. She is in a position to know whether there are past or current care proceedings in respect of those cases. As a precaution, we have notified the defence solicitors, the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Court of Appeal that we have concerns about those cases. In addition, we have read across and reported our concerns to my right hon. Friend.
The hon. Gentleman asked about people involved in shaken baby syndrome cases. We hope to get further guidance from the Court of Appeal next year, but people can refer their cases to the CCRC. They can also appeal, if they have not done so already, and apply for release on bail. Non-custodial sentences were given in many of the cases that we have looked at, even when convictions were secured or guilty pleas made. Some people will have been released, but others will have been granted bail while their cases proceed through the system.
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