I am sure none of us would be party to this. But I read this blog (from our colleagues at Serjeants’ Inn Chambers and our friend Bridget Dolan QC) with interest. It is a timely reminder.
In many years of handling inquests, deliberate deception by clinical staff is something I have rarely seen. Selective memory and ‘changes of mind / story’ I do see from time to time. This can be difficult to handle and advise upon and calls for careful and experienced management.
It is always wise to make a careful note of the advice you provide on giving evidence and to keep a careful note of what a witness says (carefully drafted statement etc). Get confirmation. Get it signed. It is always important for all of us (internal or external advisers) to remind witnesses we act for the health and care provider. In the absence of any issues likely to cause conflict or involve criminal / professional issues of course we can normally advise and assist. Without suggesting that they need to, must or should, individual witnesses should be reminded they are free to obtain independent advice if they wish and so choose. No offence will be taken.
Never be party to ‘coaching’ the witness or offer suggestions as to what the evidence might be. That might sound obvious but it is all too easy to fall foul of this during ‘support’ meetings and in the ‘heat of the moment’.
On the odd occasion when I have grounds to suspect someone is being a little ‘light with the actualite’, it has been necessary to advise witnesses to seek separate help. Fortunately, this is rare. That said, experience teaches us, these are wise steps to take to avoid being subject to criticism yourself and to make sure witnesses fully understand the position.
Perjury & misconduct in a public office
Of course, lying in court, or in documents produced for Court, is perjury. Again it is rare, but prosecutions have been successfully pursued against clinicians. In December 2000 a consultant (Mr Pole) was jailed for four months for lying to an inquest about his treatment of a terminally ill patient. In January this year, Greater Manchester Police launched a criminal investigation (into perjury and misconduct in a public office) following evidence given on oath into the death of an inmate at Strangeways prison. Senior Coroner Nigel Meadows said: “On more than one occasion it was suggested witnesses had tailored their evidence to suit an account that was not true."
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