The Law Gazette Features Insightful Analysis by John Vater KC on the SIHIS Pilot


5th Jul 2024 | News


In a compelling article for The Law Gazette, esteemed barrister John Vater KC from Harcourt Chambers provides a critical examination of the Suspected Inflicted Head Injury Service (SIHIS) pilot. His analysis delves into the complex and often contentious nature of suspected inflicted head injury cases in the family justice system, shedding light on the significant challenges and potential pitfalls of the pilot program.

John articulates the inherent difficulties in these cases, highlighting the broad spectrum of expert opinions and the ongoing controversies within the medical community. He argues that the SIHIS pilot’s assumption of a uniform expert consensus is fundamentally flawed. This assumption overlooks the reality that significant areas of contention persist, particularly regarding the nature, causation, and interpretation of intracranial bleeding in children.

The article emphasizes that the SIHIS pilot aims to streamline the reporting process by reducing discrepancies between local and court-appointed expert opinions. However, John warns that this approach could obscure crucial differences that often emerge during forensic examinations and cross-examinations in court. He points out that these differences are not merely theoretical but have real-world implications, as they have historically influenced the outcomes of numerous cases, sometimes resulting in the reunification of families.

John underscores the dangers of adopting a “one size fits all” solution in such a scientifically complex and controversial field. He suggests that the pilot’s drive to produce uniform reports could lead to an increase in applications for the cross-examination of reporting doctors and the appointment of independent experts. This could ironically result in greater delays and complications, contrary to the pilot’s objectives.

Moreover, the article highlights the potential for miscarriages of justice if the pilot program proceeds without adequate consultation and involvement from experienced practitioners. John stresses that those regularly dealing with these cases are acutely aware of the nuances and legitimate disparities in expert opinions, and their exclusion from the planning and implementation of the pilot could have serious consequences.

John advocates for active involvement from experienced legal and medical professionals to ensure that the complexities and controversies inherent in these cases are adequately addressed, thereby safeguarding the integrity of the family justice system. His article is a critical reminder of the importance of expertise and thorough consultation in the development of legal procedures, particularly in areas as sensitive and intricate as suspected inflicted head injuries in children.

Read the full article here


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