Child abuse cases — the role of the expert

By Anna Sandiford 29/06/2011

Given the current inquest into the deaths of the Kahui twins and the storm about the book to be published by Ian Wishart and the twins’ mother, Macsyna King, this may be of interest – it is a link to a Frontline programme (about half an hour) that seems to have been shown in the USA on 28 June this year (yesterday, NZ time).

It’s about child abuse and how the evidence of expert witnesses can affect cases in two ways: by not challenging the expertise or evidence of experts and by the way changes in scientific thinking can change over time.

Some of the findings regarding the main case and others that are mentioned, including that of Louise Woodward, seem to be uncertain and advances in science may have resulted in a different opinion being given if the cases were heard today. In the Woodward case and others, this relates to the changes of view about Shaken Baby Syndrome.

If nothing else it demonstrates that science does not remain static – things change and so do scientific opinions. Which is why science in the court room should be tested.