Allegation of non-accidental injury

The scene

A consultant paediatrician had been asked to provide a report regarding a five-year old child he had seen on the ward. The child had sustained an injury which could not easily be explained by the parents, and the consultant was concerned that it might be non-accidental. The consultant recorded the history and his examination findings carefully in the records.

The consultant was later contacted by a solicitor acting for the child's father in family court proceedings. The letter explained that the court was being asked to decide what had happened to the child and in particular to decide upon the nature and causation of the injuries. The court were also to determine whether the injuries were non-accidental, and if so, to identify the perpetrator(s).

The consultant was familiar with writing reports in relation to child protection proceedings and was happy to do so on this occasion. It was not his normal practice to contact the MDU under these circumstances, but he noted that the letter referred to the intention of the judge to consider whether the consultant should be a witness or given leave to intervene in the Finding of Fact hearing. This was not something that he had seen in a letter from the courts before and was concerned as to what it might mean for him.

The consultant rang the MDU medico-legal helpline.

MDU advice

The adviser explained that the consultant was right to be concerned and to have contacted the MDU. They went on to say that because the consultant had been asked if he wished to intervene with respect to the Finding of Fact hearing, it could suggest that the parents had made allegations against him, such as alleging that he had caused injury to the child when examining her on the ward. The adviser explained that the consultant was obliged to write a statement, as this had been requested by the court. However, as it now appeared that criminal allegations had been made against him, it was important that he was assisted by a solicitor and represented at the hearing, if he was in fact asked to attend.

The adviser instructed a solicitor to assist the consultant. After further investigation the solicitor found that the child re-presented to the hospital with a fracture the day after the consultant had reviewed her. The father was alleging that this fracture had occurred during the examination and was caused by the consultant. The solicitor helped the consultant in the wording of his statement, having sought disclosure of the relevant documentary evidence from the court. The solicitor attended court with the consultant and the allegations were easily defended.

Dr Kathryn Leask
MDU medico-legal adviser

This page was correct at publication on 17/02/2016. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.