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Cite as: [1981] 1 WLR 246, [1981] WLR 246, [1981] 1 All ER 267, [1980] UKHL 12

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    Parliamentary Archives,

    Die Mercurii 17° Decembris 1980

    Upon Report from the Appellate Committee to whom
    was referred the Cause Whitehouse (Assisted Person)
    (suing by his mother and next friend Eileen Whitehouse)
    Jordan and others, That the Committee had
    heard Counsel as well on Monday the 27th, Tuesday
    the 28th, Wednesday the 29th, and Thursday the 30th
    days of October last as on Monday the 3rd day of
    November last upon the Petition and Appeal of Stuart
    Charles Whitehouse of East Leigh, Rowney Green
    Lane, Rowney Green, Alvechurch in the County of
    Worcester praying that the matter of the Order set forth
    in the Schedule thereto, namely an Order of Her
    Majesty's Court of Appeal of the 5th day of December
    1979 might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen
    in Her Court of Parliament and that the said Order
    might be reversed, varied or altered or that the
    Petitioner might have such other relief in the premises
    as to Her Majesty the Queen in Her Court of Parliament
    might seem meet; as also upon the Case of J. A. Jordan
    the Board of Governors of the United Birmingham
    Hospitals Board lodged in answer to the said Appeal;
    and due consideration had this day of what was offered
    on either side in this Cause:

    It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual
    and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of Her
    Majesty the Queen assembled, That the said Order of
    Her Majesty's Court of Appeal (Civil Division) of the
    5th day of December 1979 complained of in the said
    Appeal be, and the same is hereby, Affirmed and that
    the said Petition and Appeal be, and the same is hereby,
    dismissed this House: and it is further Ordered, That
    the Appellant's Costs in this House be taxed in
    accordance with the provisions of schedule 2 to the
    Legal Aid Act 1974.

    Whitehouse (A.P.) (suing by his mother and next friend Eileen Whitehouse) (Appellant) v. Jordan and others (Respondents).

    Die Jovis 19° Februarii 1981

    After hearing Counsel for the Respondents and for
    the Law Society on a Question of Costs out of the Legal
    Aid Fund:

    It is Ordered, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal
    in the Court of Parliament of Her Majesty the Queen
    assembled, That the First and Second Respondents'
    Costs in the Court of Appeal and in this House be paid
    out of the Legal Aid Fund pursuant to Section 13 of the
    Legal Aid Act 1974, the amount of such last mentioned
    Costs to be certified by the Clerk of the Parliaments.





    Lord Wilberforce
    Lord Edmund-Davies
    Lord Fraser of Tullybelton
    Lord Russell of Killowen
    Lord Bridge of Harwich

    Lord Wilberforce

    My Lords,

    Stuart Whitehouse is a boy now aged ten: he was born on 7th January
    1970, with severe brain damage. In these circumstances, tragic for him and
    for his mother, this action has been brought, by his mother as next friend,
    in which he claims that the damage to his brain was caused by the
    professional negligence of Mr. J. A. Jordan who was Senior Registrar at the
    hospital at Birmingham where the birth took place. There were originally
    also claims against Professor McLaren, the consultant in charge of the
    Maternity Unit to which Mr. Jordan belonged, and also against the hospital
    on its own account. But these have disappeared and the hospital, more
    exactly the West Midland Regional Health Authority, remains in the case
    only as vicariously responsible for any liability which may be established
    against Mr. Jordan.

    A large number of claims have been made since the event most of which
    have now been eliminated or withdrawn. The negligence ultimately charged
    against Mr. Jordan is that in the course of carrying out a " trial of forceps
    " delivery ", he pulled too long and too strongly upon the child's
    head, thereby causing the brain damage. The trial Judge, after a
    trial of eleven days in which eminent medical experts were called on
    each side, and numerous issues were canvassed, reached the conclusion
    which he expressed in a most careful judgment, that the plaintiff has made
    good his case: he awarded £100,000 damages. His decision was reversed
    by a majority of the Court of Appeal (Lord Denning M.R. and Lawton L.J.,
    Donaldson L.J. dissenting) which refused leave to appeal to this House.
    Leave was, however, granted by an Appeal Committee. The essential and
    very difficult question therefore has to be faced whether, on a pure question
    of fact, the Court of Appeal was justified in reversing the decision of the
    trial judge.

    My Lords, I need not elaborate upon the principles of law which have to
    be applied. First, it is necessary, in order to establish liability of, and to
    obtain an award of compensation against, a doctor or a hospital that there
    has been negligence in law. There is in this field no liability without proof
    of fault. Secondly, there are strict limitations upon this power of an appeal
    court to reverse the decision of the judge on an issue of fact. These have
    been well and clearly stated notably by Lord Sumner in The Hontestroom
    [1927] A.C. 37, and by the Court of Appeal in The Glannibanta (1876)
    1P.D. 283, 287. The Court of Appeal had them fully in mind. The main
    reason why, in the absence of an error of law, the judgment of the trial
    judge calls for the utmost respect, is that he has seen and heard the
    witnesses, often, as in this case, including the rival parties (the mother
    and Mr. Jordan). The strength of this consideration will vary from case
    to case according as conclusions have to be reached as to credibility, or
    based on demeanour. In the present case they exist but are not compelling.
    A view had to be and was expressed as to the credibility of the mother: she
    was, generally, found to be incapable, in the understandable circumstances,
    of giving reliably precise evidence, but there remains a question whether,
    though what she said was unacceptable, something of evidentiary value
    can be extracted from it. On this I consider that the Court of Appeal was
    entitled to form an opinion.

    As to the evidence of Mr. Jordan, no question of credibility arose: there
    was no doubt that he was telling the truth as he saw it. The judge did not


    express disbelief of his account: what he did was to appraise it in relation
    to such other evidence as was available: this he was entitled to do, but the
    Court of Appeal, while bound to attach great weight to the judge's views,
    was able to evaluate it for itself.

    Thirdly, there was the evidence of Professor McLaren. I think that his
    demeanour in the witness box must have had an influence upon the judge's
    views, and this calls for complete respect. But as I shall hope to show,
    the ultimate conclusion to be drawn depends much more upon the setting
    in which his evidence was given, and the relation which it must be thought
    to have to the events which occurred.

    Lastly, there were the expert witnesses. The judge was entitled to be
    impressed by the way in which each of them gave evidence, but he gave
    no indication how this factor balanced out. In the end, as to the standard
    of skill to be expected of Mr. Jordan, there was little difference of opinion:
    such as there was related to what they respectively thought Mr. Jordan
    actually done. This brings us back to the primary issue, as to what
    really happened in the critical twenty-five minutes.

    The appeal brought out, very clearly to my mind, that the issue does not
    depend upon the endless refinements—for example on the meaning of
    " impaction " —of the experts, but upon one issue: what, if any, evidence
    of negligence was provided by (a) the evidence of the mother; (b) the report
    and evidence of Professor McLaren; (c) the evidence of Mr. Jordan.
    the solution of this issue remains one of immense difficulty.

    Mr. Jordan was at the time a Senior Registrar, of near consultant status,
    esteemed by his professional colleagues. There is no question but that he
    brought the utmost care to bear upon Mrs. Whitehouse's labour and delivery.
    If he was negligent at all, this consisted in a departure, in an anxious
    situation, from a standard accepted by the profession at the time. Put very
    briefly, it was said to lie in continuing traction with the forceps after an
    obstruction had been encountered so that the baby's head became
    " impacted ": I shall not explain this word at this stage. It is obvious that
    the error, if error there was, lay centrally in the area of the exercise of
    expert judgment and experienced operation. Mr. Jordan was a member
    of the obstetrical unit at the hospital headed by Professor McLaren, which
    had a high reputation: Professor McLaren himself was a distinguished
    obstetrician, unfortunately ill at the time of the birth.

    Mrs. Whitehouse was accepted as thirty years of age: this was her first
    baby. She was small, only 4ft. 101
    /2 in. in height. She was a difficult, nervous
    and at times aggressive patient. She was unable, or refused, to agree to
    vaginal examination during her pregnancy, or to have taken a lateral
    X-ray, though urged to do so by Professor McLaren. These processes
    would have helped to discover the exact shape of the pelvis. It is fair to
    say that when Mr. Jordan came on the scene, he was not greatly handicapped
    by this, because Mrs. Whitehouse was at that time under epidural anaesthetic,
    and he was able to examine her vaginally. However, he had not the
    advantage of accurate measurements of the pelvis or of the ischial spines.

    I need say little about the pre-natal history of the case. It is fully told
    in the judgments of the trial judge and the Master of the Rolls. The
    mother was seen by a number of doctors in the course of her pregnancy
    including Professor McLaren and Mr. Jordan. I do not think that any
    criticism can be made of what they did. She was identified clearly as
    likely to be a difficult case: on 31st December 1969 Professor McLaren
    recorded that he thought the outlet was tight and that a trial of labour
    would be needed. This means that labour would be permitted to start and
    to proceed under close supervision in order to see whether the head could,
    with safety, proceed down the birth canal.

    Mrs. Whitehouse was admitted to the hospital at 0200 hours on 6th
    January 1970 her membranes having ruptured shortly before. The vertex
    was recorded as engaged at 0230, and this was confirmed by Mr. Kelly,
    of consultant status, at 1000 hrs. He noted " fair sized baby ".


    So at this point we have a small woman, anxious and distressed, awaiting
    a baby, for her on the large side, with the head in a favourable position
    and engaged in the pelvis; noted as being probably a case for " trial of
    labour ". At 1130 she was given an epidural anaesthetic which would
    prevent her from feeling pain and probably from sensation below the waist.

    At 1830 she was seen by Dr. Skinner. He examined her vaginally and
    abdominally. He reported " vertex engaged, foetal heart satisfactory . . .
    pelvis seems adequate ".

    Now comes the period critical for this case. At 2330 Mr. Jordan, who
    was not on duty, came to talk to Dr. Skinner. On his radio communicator
    the latter was told that Mrs. Whitehouse was fully dilated. Dr. Skinner
    thought that this was a case for a more senior man than he, and Mr. Jordan
    to go: he saw her at 2330 and examined her abdominally and
    vaginally. He read the notes on the case, which, as the above summary
    shows, informed him precisely of what he had to deal with: a difficult
    case calling for great care.

    He made a detailed note which I need not copy in full. It gave all the
    necessary medical details. Against " pelvis " he wrote " small gynaecoid "
    (i.e., of appropriate female shape) and then " Normal delivery out of the
    " question ".

    He decided to embark on a trial of forceps and did so at 2345. The
    full expression for this is "trial of forceps delivery" which, as the evidence
    showed beyond doubt, means that the operator tries to see whether with
    the use of forceps a delivery per vaginam is possible. This involves two
    things, first tentative and delicate handling at least at the start; second the
    necessity of continuously reviewing progress with the obligation to stop
    traction if it appears that delivery per vaginam cannot be proceeded with
    without risk. Then delivery will take place by Caesarean section.

    Two things must be said at this stage. First—though for the plaintiff
    it was at one time otherwise contended—the decision to try for vaginal
    delivery rather than go at once to a Caesarean section was unquestionably
    the right and correct procedure, in order to avoid if possible the risk to
    the mother inevitably involved in section. Secondly, for the plaintiff an
    attempt was made to draw a line between trial of forceps, on the one hand,
    and delivery by forceps on the other, and to make a case that Mr. Jordan
    unjustifiably, proceeding to the latter. This, to my mind, completely
    failed. There is no such clear-cut distinction. A trial of forceps (delivery)
    is what it says: it is an attempt at delivery accompanied by the two special
    conditions I have mentioned. There can be no doubt that this is what
    Mr. Jordan was attempting. I take what happened from his notes. Under
    " summary of reasons for operation " he wrote:

    " Trial of forceps under epidural anaesthetic. Lower segment
    " Caesarean section under G. A."


    "(1) Forceps begun at 23.45, 6.1.70.

    " Head rotated to O-A (with Kiellands. No problem." (Kiellands
    is a kind of forceps used by some operators to rotate the head. This
    procedure was correct.)

    " A very tight fit. No episiotomy." (Cutting of the perineum.)

    " After pulling with 5 or 6 contractions it was obvious that vaginal
    " delivery would be too traumatic—so Caesarean section."

    He then recorded the Caesarean which everyone agrees was impeccably
    performed in two minutes. He noted " no apparent (vaginal) trauma ".
    To complete the history, the baby, extracted apparently unharmed, was
    handed over to the paediatricians, found apnoeic, and made to breathe
    after thirty-five minutes, by which time irretrievable brain damage had

    Here, with one possible exception, is a record of a birth carried out with
    all correct procedures, with, as unhappily occurs in the best managed


    hospitals and the best medical care, tragic results. The possible exception
    lies in the reference in Mr. Jordan's own report to " pulling with five or
    six contractions ". Did Mr. Jordan pass the limits of professional
    competence either in continuing traction too long, or in pulling too hard?
    That is the whole issue. As direct evidence from persons present there
    was the evidence of Mr. Jordan, Mrs. Whitehouse and Dr. Skinner. There
    was no ward sister present and the two attending midwives could not be
    traced. As indirect evidence there was a report from Professor McLaren
    made to the Hospital Administrator some time between 22nd January and
    10th March 1970, based upon his reading of the notes, a conference with
    Mr. Jordan, and his own experience. On top of this there was expert
    evidence on each side as to what Mr. Jordan ought to have done, and as
    to the correctness of what he did. What is clear is that, in a trial of
    forceps, the operator should not attempt to pull past an obstruction, or at
    least not past a bony obstruction. Did Mr. Jordan do this?

    My Lords, at this point it is vital to recall that we are not here entitled
    to retry the case. We have indeed read almost the whole of the transcripted
    evidence. But it is not for us to say how we would have decided the case
    at trial. What we can properly do is to examine the judge's findings and
    to reach a conclusion, difficult though this may be, whether they can
    reasonably be supported on the evidence—recognising his advantages and,
    as fairly as we can, his difficulties—and whether the Court of Appeal was
    justified in reversing them.

    One point must be put out of the way: was whatever occurred at the
    birth causative of the brain damage—in itself a very difficult question? The
    baby was apparently undamaged at birth: brain damage does occur for no
    ascertainable reason, and in normal births. Many alternatives were
    considered. The judge was able to find and did so that the probability
    was that the damage occurred between 2345 and 0010 on the 6th/7th
    January, i.e. during the period in which the forceps were used. Whether
    I, or any other judge, would have reached the same conclusion is not here
    or there: the finding had evidence to support it and cannot be disturbed.
    It does not of itself, of course, prove that the damage arose from lack of
    skill: that is a point which must be independently decided.

    There were three critical pieces of evidence.

    First, there was the evidence of the mother—in the abstract the best
    person to know exactly what happened. In the concrete, the situation was
    otherwise. She had been in labour for nearly twenty-four hours: recorded
    as distressed: there had been vomiting: she was—for understandable
    reasons connected with her family—intensely anxious and tense: she was in
    a condition of lack of confidence in the medical procedure. She was under
    epidural anaesthetic, so inhibited from feeling unless very imprecisely what
    was going on. In these conditions she testified as follows: [when the forceps
    were applied] " It felt like a deadened electric shock that lifted my hips off
    " the table up off the bed ". This is also what she told the eminent
    professors who on this basis prepared their report for the plaintiff. But the
    judge—inevitably—did not accept this. No witness regarded it as
    possible—any traction must have been downwards. Dr. Skinner, who was
    standing by her side the whole time, said that nothing like this occurred—he
    would have seen it and remembered it " for its fantasticness ". With all
    allowance for professional loyalty this evidence is too strong to be totally
    discounted. But, though rejecting this account, the judge did make some
    use of it: he said " it could be that she was pulled towards the bottom of
    " the delivery bed depending upon the amount of force used ". But this
    does not prove that excessive force was used, and that is what is required.
    Again, in the crucial conclusory part of his judgment he says:

    " Though Mrs. Whitehouse's description of what occurred to her
    " when the forceps were applied may not be exact in its clinical detail,
    " I believe her, in so far as her description can be taken to be
    " understood, as a pulling of her toward the bottom of the delivery
    " bed in a manner and with such force as to be inconsistent with a trial
    " of forceps properly carried out."


    But I must agree with the majority of the Court of Appeal that I cannot
    accept this as a defensible finding. A process by which, after rejecting the
    account given by a witness—and it was more than inexact " in clinical
    " detail " —that account is reconstructed so as to be evidence not of a
    general character, but of a precise and critical degree of traction supposed to
    differ from what would have been quite proper, seems to me with all
    respect to be illegitimate. If excessive traction is otherwise proved, her
    evidence might be consistent with that, but it cannot be used itself as
    evidence of that excess. I think that the Court of Appeal was quite right
    to discard this finding. In this they were unanimous.

    The next piece of evidence consists of Mr. Jordan's own testimony. He
    was examined and cross-examined at length. In his judgment the judge
    made comparatively little reference to this evidence, relying much more
    heavily on the second-hand evidence of Professor McLaren. For myself,
    I would regard Mr. Jordan's first-hand account of the matter as of cardinal
    importance. Parts of it, indeed, may be regarded as the most solid
    evidence against him. I have anxiously considered it with the reservations
    proper in a case when a man is defending himself against a serious claim.
    The tenor of it, read as a whole, was that this was a very tight fit; that
    with the first few pulls—made (correctly) with the contractions—some
    progress was made. With the fifth pull he realised that he was not making
    progress: he tried once more to see if he could ease the head past what might
    be minimal obstruction. Failing this, he thought that delivery per vaginam,
    though possible, would be too traumatic and that a Caesarean section was
    needed. With a view to this he eased the head slightly upwards with the

    The attack on this was really two-fold. First, it was to say that
    Mr. Jordan pulled too hard. There was no direct evidence of this except
    that of the mother which I have already discussed. Dr. Skinner—though
    I quite accept that not too much weight can be placed on his description—
    said that he had never ever (sic) seen Mr. Jordan violently pull forceps in
    his life.

    Then, and this was the critical point, it was said that Mr. Jordan tried to
    pull past a bony obstruction—which would be contrary to the best medical
    practice—and got the head " wedged " or " stuck " or " impacted ". In
    his judgment the judge quoted this passage:

    "Q. Perhaps I should end by asking you this: " did you try to
    " pull past any bony part?—A. My trial by forceps was to overcome
    " what may be minimal obstruction so one did, as it were, pass the
    " level of the ischial spines.

    " Q. The question was not well phrased. Did you try to pull
    " despite them?—A. No."

    His comment on it is that " perhaps some clue was given by [it] ".

    But if the first answer is somewhat obscure, the second is a plain denial
    that he tried to pull despite (i.e. over any resistance of) the ischial spines.

    I would compare with this his final answer given in reply to the learned

    " Mr. Justice Bush: Mr. Jordan, on that aspect of it that you have
    " been talking about, what was it that made you believe that to continue
    " the traction might be harmful to the baby?—A. Because one is
    " aware from the very nature of the forceps delivery that there is some
    " resistance, and the aim of a trial of forceps is to ease the baby past
    " whatever resistance there may be, whether it is the pelvic floor or the
    " side walls of the pelvis, and you pull slowly and tentatively and then
    " you form an impression that to continue with that rate of progress
    " may take too long, or too much traction, and I think that is all."

    Other passages exist to the same effect. And what I think Mr. Jordan is
    trying to explain is that, in a trial of forceps, the operator, who has to work
    on feel, and instinct, and experience, is by the nature of things always


    working against resistance, just because of the narrowness and irregular
    shape of the birth canal. This he has to do, with of course care, and a
    margin of safety. What he must not do, and what Mr. Jordan denies that
    he did, was to pull past a bony obstruction: then he must stop.

    This leads on to the issue of whether the head was " stuck " or " wedged ".
    So far as Mr. Jordan is concerned he firmly denied that it ever was. It
    would not, without risk, go any further, but that was all. At the end he was
    able without difficulty to push it back up a little in preparation for the
    Caesarean. I think that it is possible to carry this point further. Sir John
    Dewhurst, Professor at Queen Charlotte's Hospital and at Chelsea Hospital
    for Women, and the author of an important book Integrated Obstetrics,
    gave evidence after Mr. Jordan and after hearing the latter's evidence—an
    advantage not possessed by the plaintiff's witnesses. He found nothing
    wrong in the procedure which Mr. Jordan had followed, including the resort
    to five or six pulls.

    I reach the conclusion, then, that here too the Court of Appeal, particularly
    Lawton L.J., were justified in taking—contrary to the view of the
    judge—Mr. Jordan's evidence as evidence that he did not get the head
    wedged or stuck.

    So finally there is Professor McLaren's report and evidence, on which
    the judge placed much reliance. I have explained that his report was
    prepared on the basis of the hospital notes and of conference with
    Mr. Jordan. It is therefore evidence against Mr. Jordan, to the extent, and
    only to the extent, that it may be taken to incorporate Mr. Jordan's account
    at the time to his superior. It must be borne in mind that it was written
    in order to answer a long letter of complaints by Mr. Whitehouse as to the
    conduct of the birth, one of his complaints relating to the pulls exerted by
    Mr. Jordan. The tenor of the report was to maintain that Mrs. Whitehouse
    received correct and skilled treatment and that no blame attached to
    anyone for the sad result which followed. Though this was the purpose
    of the report it was said that nevertheless it " let the cat out of the bag " in
    two respects revelatory of a failure of skill by Mr. Jordan.

    In a critical passage he wrote:

    " A trial of forceps was carried out under epidural anaesthesia the
    " head rotating with ease with Kiellands forceps. Descent, however,
    " did not follow traction and in the interest of the child the head was
    " disimpacted prior to speedy delivery by Caesarean section. However,
    " there was need to switch from epidural to general anaesthetic for
    " section ".

    The first point is easily disposed of. " Descent did not follow traction "
    is clearly a statement referring to the whole of the process and is merely
    saying that the traction did not extract the baby. It cannot be read as
    saying, as for the plaintiff it was sought to say, that no movement whatever
    took place. It leads to no conclusion.

    The second point is more difficult. It relates to the word " disimpacted ".
    This involves, it is said, that the head was " impacted " —and " impacted "
    means " wedged or stuck ". This proves therefore that Mr. Jordan pulled
    too hard. It should be noted that a copy of this report was sent to
    Mr. Jordan who did not comment on the word: he must therefore, it is
    said, be taken to have agreed with it.

    Many hours of evidence were devoted to this word. Professor McLaren
    himself tried to explain it away—he should not have used it—he did not
    mean to convey that the head required to be " unstuck " or that it was
    stuck. He pointed out, justly, that the report referred to " a tentative
    " attempt at forceps " . . . " the accepted obstetrical technique of tentative
    " trial of forceps " . . . " satisfactory trial of labour ". All of this was
    inconsistent with getting the head " wedged ". But what did he mean by
    the word—used three times?


    There was no unanimity among the experts as to the meaning of the
    word " impacted ". The dictionary meaning is:

    " Denoting a foetus that, because of its large size or narrowing of
    " the pelvic canal, has become wedged and incapable of spontaneous
    " advance or recession ". [Steadman's Medical Dictionary].

    No reference here, be it noted, to the result of force.
    Sir John Stallworthy did not disagree with this.

    Sir John Peel:

    " I think that an impacted head is one that does not move either up
    " or down without further force or exertion being applied. Either with
    " forceps in pulling it down or the fingers pulling it up ".

    Sir John Dewhurst:

    " It is not a term I use in my medical practice, no. I think it is
    " capable of being used in various ways. I suppose perhaps one reason
    " why I never use it is impaction in the sense solidly wedged has almost
    " disappeared from medical practice in this country ".

    Dame Josephine Barnes:

    " I mean the head is in a position where it cannot go any further on ".

    So there is no unanimity, or even balance of opinion, that impaction is
    something which occurs from or is evidence of excessive or unprofessional
    pulling. It is a condition, which may arise from many causes.

    The learned judge's conclusion was " I find it difficult to accept Professor
    " McLaren's explanation of his use of the word ' impacted '"—and this
    was a critical finding against Mr. Jordan. But with respect I think that
    the mass of medical evidence had led him to focus on an inessential
    question. The argument was not about the meaning of a word, but about
    what Mr. Jordan did. Mr. Jordan gave a complete and detailed account
    of what he did. He proceeded to the point when the baby would go no
    further. He denied that it was " stuck ". He said that he easily pushed
    it up. All of this was consistent with sound medical practice, and with a
    possible use of the terminology. If Professor McLaren had thought, after
    discussing the case with Mr. Jordan, that something had gone wrong, and
    that the head had become wedged through excessive force, it is incredible
    that, in the context of a wholly disculpatory report, he would have used
    a word meaning " wedged by force " without some explanation. It is
    quite simple to suppose that the word was used to refer to the routine
    action in preparation for Caesarean section.

    In my opinion, the Court of Appeal was justified in concluding that
    this, together with the evidence of Mrs. Whitehouse which formed the main
    pillars of the judgment, was not nearly of sufficient strength to lead to a
    finding of professional negligence.

    My Lords, I could, but will not comment on other aspects of the evidence.
    I am, for myself, not happy about the manner in which the judge used the
    evidence about the foetal heart beat: I understand that others of your
    Lordships may enlarge upon this point. At the end of it all, upon the
    single issue whether during the critical half hour Mr. Jordan departed
    from his own high standard of professional competence, I find the judgments
    of the Master of the Rolls and of Lawton L.J. convincing, and appreciative
    as I am—as were the members of the Court of Appeal—of the judge's care
    and clarity, I must agree that this is a case where an appeal court can and
    should interfere.

    One final word. I have to say that I feel some concern as to the manner
    in which part of the expert evidence called for the plaintiff came to be
    organised This matter was discussed in the Court of Appeal and
    commented on by the Master of the Rolls. While some degree of consulta-
    tion between experts and legal advisers is entirely proper, it is necessary
    that expert evidence presented to the court should be, and should be seen


    to be, the independent product of the expert, uninfluenced as to form or
    content by the exigencies of litigation. To the extent that it is not, the
    evidence is likely to be not only incorrect but self defeating.

    I would dismiss the appeal.

    Lord Edmund-Davies

    My Lords,

    I have wrestled long and hard over this appeal. The evidence at the
    trial occupied eleven days, and the judgment delivered ten days later by
    Bush, J., is a model of clarity and care. But the fact that this award of
    £100,000 to the grossly disabled infant plaintiff was reversed by a majority
    at the conclusion of a four-days hearing in the Court of Appeal and that
    the appeal to this House occupied five days should serve to demonstrate
    that difficult issues are involved.

    I gratefully adopt the narrative of salient facts prepared by my noble
    and learned friend, Lord Wilberforce, and I shall add little to it. There
    arose an acute conflict on many points and between both lay and expert
    witnesses. It has long been settled law that, when the decision of a trial
    judge is based substantially on his assessment of the quality and credibility
    of witnesses, an appellate court " must, in order to reverse, not merely
    " entertain doubts whether the decision below is right, but be convinced
    " that it is wrong " (The Julia (1860) 14 Moo PC 210, per Lord Kingsdown
    at 235). And that is so irrespective of whether or not the trial judge made
    any observation with regard to credibility (Clarke v Edinburgh & District
    Tramways Co.
    1919 SC (HL) 35, per Lord Shaw at 36).

    Certain important matters are not in doubt. The first (as the learned
    judge himself stressed) is that the delivery of a brain-damaged baby does
    not necessarily connote negligence by anyone, for such a misfortune can
    inexplicably occur in circumstances where there are no grounds for
    suspecting any lack of proper skill. Again, although the obdurate attitude
    of Mrs. Whitehouse during her pregnancy had created a lack of information
    regarding the dimensions of her birth canal, before Mr. Jordan started
    even an exploratory pull on the foetus he contemporaneously noted that
    he was confronted by " a very tight fit ", a situation which Dame Josephine
    Barnes described as " certainly a high risk case " and one which Sir John
    Dewhurst said would have occasioned him " considerable concern ". On
    the other hand, it was unchallenged that Mr. Jordan was right to use
    forceps, for, although vaginal delivery by contraction alone was out of the
    question, it was inadvisable to proceed directly to Caesarean section.

    The principal questions calling for decision are: (a) In what manner
    did Mr. Jordan use the forceps, and (b) was that manner consistent with
    the degree of skill which a member of his profession is required by law to
    exercise? Surprising though it is at this late stage in the development of
    the law of negligence, counsel for Mr. Jordan persisted in submitting that
    his client should be completely exculpated were the answer to question (b),
    " Well, at worst he was guilty of an error of clinical judgment ". My
    Lords, it is high time that the unacceptability of such an answer be finally
    exposed. To say that a surgeon committed an error of clinical judgment
    is wholly ambiguous, for, while some such errors may be completely
    consistent with the due exercise of professional skill, other acts or omissions
    in the course of exercising " clinical judgment " may be so glaringly below
    proper standards as to make a finding of negligence inevitable. Indeed,
    I should have regarded this as a truism were it not that, despite the exposure
    of the " false antithesis " by Donaldson LJ. in his dissenting judgment,
    learned counsel for the respondents adhered to it before your Lordships.

    But doctors and surgeons fall into no special legal category, and, to
    avoid any future disputation of a similar kind, I would have it accepted
    that the true doctrine was enunciated—and by no means for the first time
    —by McNair J. in Bolam v. Friern Hospital Management Committee [1957]


    1 W.L.R., 582, at 586 in the following words, which were applied by the
    Privy Council in Chin Keow v. Government of Malaysia [1967] 1 W.L.R.

    " Where you get a situation which involves the use of some special
    " skill or competence, then the test as to whether there has been
    " negligence or not is not the test of the man on the top of a Clapham
    " omnibus, becauses he has not got this special skill. The test is the
    " standard of the ordinary skilled man exercising and professing to
    " have that special skill ".

    If a surgeon fails to measure up to that standard in any respect (" clinical
    " judgment" or otherwise), he has been negligent and should be so

    Mr. Jordan said that, in the situation confronting him, he embarked on
    a trial of forceps, its object being to establish whether there was any
    disproportion or obstruction in the birth canal sufficient to put at risk a
    vaginal delivery. Trial of forceps needs to be carried out gently and
    tentatively, " progress being observed when reasonable traction is exerted ",
    as Sir John Dewhurst, a defence witness, put it. If progress is achieved,
    the process of pulling with contractions, opening the forceps when a
    contraction ceases, then applying them again with the next contraction
    continues until (in Mr. Jordan's words) " such time as the baby was
    " delivered or (as in this case) it became apparent that further attempt at
    " delivery may be unwise ". He accepted that during the trial of forceps
    the surgeon is not embarking on a delivery, but merely exploring the
    possibility of vaginal delivery being achieved, and that, " Before under-
    " taking mid-forceps delivery, the physician's clinical judgment must permit
    " him to conclude unequivocally that he can in fact deliver the baby
    " safely per vaginam, and that this method of delivery placed less risk to
    " the mother and baby than Caesarean section ".

    How far had Mr. Jordan proceeded before he abandoned the notion of
    a vaginal delivery and decided upon a Caesarean section? He said he had
    pulled with five or six contractions, and formed the view that the head was
    making satisfactory progress after the first four pulls. There came a fifth
    pull with possibly no " movement ". When asked, " What conceivable
    " factor can there be which would stop you on the fifth? ", his significant
    reply was " The spines ", i.e. the ischia. A little later he said, " If I got
    " difficulty on the fifth, then I would confirm it on the sixth ". Asked
    how in such circumstances he could justify pulling yet once more, Mr.
    Jordan answered:

    " What one wants to know is, is there at this particular moment—
    " and this is the crucial part as far as the trial of forceps is concerned
    " —or would this little extra pressure or traction deliver this head
    " past that bony obstruction or not? In these circumstances, realising
    " that this was the point at which the decision had to be made finally,
    " as to continue or go back, it is justified to see whether or not a
    " little more—a little extra traction with other contractions—would
    " be enough to overcome the resistance one is feeling ".

    That answer has to be considered in the light of the directive in a work
    prepared by Sir John Dewhurst that:

    " No obstruction below the head.

    " This is an absolute rule. The head should never be pulled past an
    " area of obstruction. Caesarean section is indicated ".

    Mr. Jordan insisted that his trial of forceps terminated at the stage when
    the factor of the safety of the baby arose, although he entertained no doubt
    that vaginal delivery could have been achieved. As to this, and the case
    generally, the conclusion of the learned judge was expressed in this way:

    " I am doubtful whether Mr. Jordan was in fact undertaking a
    " trial of forceps, as opposed to an attempt at vaginal delivery which
    " failed, and in the course of which the baby was wedged, stuck, or
    " jammed, and which on anyone's view of the matter would be


    " unjustified. However, in any event, if it were a trial of forceps
    " then he pulled too hard and too long, so that the foetus became
    " wedged or stuck. In getting it wedged or stuck, or unwedged or
    " unstuck, Mr. Jordan caused asphyxia which in its turn caused the
    " cerebral palsy. In this respect Mr. Jordan fell below the very high
    " standard of professional competence that the law requires of him."

    In the light of the conflicting evidence, is that a conclusion to which the
    experienced trial judge was entitled to arrive? With the single exception
    of Dame Josephine Barnes, the medical witnesses on both sides agree that,
    as the judge put it, "... if in fact the trial of forceps proceeded to the
    " lengths where the foetal head was wedged or stuck and had to be
    " unwedged or unstuck with the use of force, then unprofessional force
    " would have been used, both in getting it wedged and in having to
    " unwedge it ". His observations on this cardinal issue began with the
    evidence given by the mother, and he dealt with it in this way:

    " According to Mrs. Whitehouse, when the forceps were applied,
    " ' I felt like a deadened electric shock that lifted my hips off the
    " ' table', and she described her buttocks and hips being lifted off the
    " table. This cannot be an accurate description, since the pull is
    " downwards, but it could be that she was pulled towards the bottom
    " of the delivery bed, depending upon the amount of force used. She
    " was a little woman and it would be a question of degree whether
    " this indicated in itself the use of excessive force."

    When Sir John Stallworthy, a plaintiff's witness, was cross-examined to
    establish that the mother would not be lifted off the bed, he said: " What
    " very frequently happens, and I would have thought—I don't know—what
    " probably happened from her description was with the forceps she was
    " pulled down to the end of the bed. She is a small woman and it was a
    " big baby, and it would have been perfectly reasonable with an ordinary,
    " successful forceps delivery for this to have happened ". But two comments
    on that evidence are called for: (1) We are not here concerned with an
    accomplished forceps delivery, but with what was described as a trial of
    forceps which was abandoned at a stage when it was still open to Mr. Jordan
    change his mind and proceed to a Caesarean section. (2) Dr. Skinner,
    who was standing nearby in the operating theatre when the baby was
    delivered, said that Mr. Jordan never went further than trial of forceps.
    He added that there was no violent pulling, and spoke of the " fantasticness "
    of the allegation of Mrs. Whitehouse being lifted off the bed. That does
    not in terms negative a downward pull, but it controverts the use of force
    beyond that customary in a trial of forceps.

    Regarding this important matter the learned judge said:

    " Though Mrs. Whitehouse's description of what occurred to her
    " when the forceps were applied may not be exact in its clinical detail,
    " I believe her, insofar as her description can be taken to be understood,
    " as a pulling of her toward the bottom of the delivery bed in a
    " manner and with such force as to be inconsistent with a trial of
    " forceps properly carried out ".

    My Lords, I have some difficulty in following how anything in
    Mrs. Whitehouse's testimony could be " understood " in the sense adopted
    by the learned judge. She was the only witness who in direct terms spoke
    adversely of the degree of force exerted by Mr. Jordan, and he had found
    her unreliable in several respects. Once more the learned judge rejected
    her evidence, this time in relation to what happened when the forceps were
    applied. In its place he " believed " an account which, while to a degree in
    conformity with what Sir John Stallworthy said could happen in forceps
    delivery, was one which she herself did not advance. It was accordingly
    not such a finding as an appellate court, lacking the judge's advantage of
    seeing and hearing the witnesses, is normally obliged to leave undisturbed.
    It was in truth a finding without an evidential basis.

    I turn to consider another matter which undoubtedly operated powerfully
    on the judge's mind, and which, indeed, he described as " perhaps the


    " strongest piece of evidence that something untoward was done . . ."
    It has perplexed me perhaps more than any other part of this worrying
    case, and I entertain no strong conviction even now that I have reached
    the right conclusion about it. I have in mind the report prepared by
    Professor McLaren, head of the Unit and himself a defendant to these
    proceedings until they were discontinued against him in March 1976. He
    drafted the report after discussions with Mr. Jordan which began a few days
    after the baby was delivered. Each knew that Mrs. Whitehouse was very
    upset and angry, and on January 22nd 1970 there arrived a letter from her
    husband making grave complaints against the Unit staff. The hospital
    administrator therefore called for a report, and this led to discussions on
    points which both the Professor and Mr. Jordan realised were of " the
    " utmost importance ". It was in the light of these discussions and the
    hospital notes that Professor McLaren prepared his undated report, and, in
    due course, showed it to Mr. Jordan before submitting it to the hospital
    administrator on March 10th. Judging from the time factor, accordingly,
    it does not appear to have been hastily prepared. It can, I think, be fairly
    described as in some respects an odd document for a person with the
    professional experience and sophistication of Professor McLaren to have
    prepared, and for Mr. Jordan, in his turn, to have passed without
    amendment. Certainly one can well understand the learned judge being
    very troubled by it. But, having said that, what is beyond doubt is that
    the report set out to be wholly exculpatory of Mr. Jordan and of the
    entire hospital staff. Thus, it refers to " this well-conducted trial of labour
    " of forceps ", to Mrs. Whitehouses's " first-class obstetric care ", and it
    concluded, " We accept no criticism or implication that in terms of being
    " humane, or in technical skills, we neglected Mrs. Whitehouse ". Yet the
    learned judge found it possible to conclude that the report was actually
    confirmatory of the charge of negligence made against Mr. Jordan, and
    this mainly on the strength of the inclusion therein of the following

    1. " A trial of forceps was carried out under epidural anaesthesia
      "... Descent, however, did not follow traction, and in the interest of
      " the child the head was disimpacted prior to speedy delivery by
      " Caesarean Section ".

    2. In relation to the foetus having sustained a cerebral haemorrhage,
      " It could be that a congenital weakness of a blood vessel existed, so
      " that the fixing of the head in the pelvis and its disimpaction for
      " Caesarean Section led to a leaking of blood in the skull ".

    3. " Possibly at Caesarean Section the disimpaction of the head was
      " critical and cerebral haemorrhage followed." (My emphasis added in
      each case.)

    For my part, I cannot attach significance to the observation that, " Descent
    "... did not follow traction ", as it is the plaintiff's own case that descent
    to a point there certainly was. But at the trial, in the Court of Appeal,
    and again in this House many hours were spent considering the much more
    important matter of the threefold use of the word " disimpaction ". Is
    " impaction " its converse and what situation or action does each word
    connote? Mr. Jordan himself, in common with several of the expert
    witnesses, accepted as accurate the Steadman Medical Dictionary meaning
    of " impacted " as—

    " Denoting a foetus that, because of its large size or narrowing of
    " the pelvic canal, has become wedged and incapable of spontaneous
    " advance or recession."

    Professor McLaren, too, accepted that it had the generally accepted
    meaning of " stuck ", but he averred that his repeated use of " disimpaction "
    had no relation to unsticking or unwedging, or fixation or any state of
    immovability. He apologised for his misuse of language and explained that
    in his vocabulary " disimpaction " involves no more than a gentle pushing
    of the head upwards with one finger before proceeding to a Caesarean


    My Lords, the point is important in the light of the expert evidence
    supportive of the view that, if the head of the foetus had become so stuck
    as to cause asphyxia, excessive force had been used. I remain mystified
    why, in the drafting of what was known to be an extremely important
    report, its author should have used in the sense claimed by him a variant
    of the word " impaction " which in medical science has such a different
    meaning, and why Mr. Jordan (who was familiar with that accepted meaning)
    should have allowed " disimpaction " to go forward without comment.

    I could well understand the McLaren report taking the form it did were
    the version of events then intended to be advanced that Mr. Jordan had
    gone past the trial of forceps stage and had decided upon vaginal delivery;
    that he had proceeded with proper skill to implement that decision up to
    the stage when he could with safety go no further and therefore turned to
    Caesarean section; and that the misfortune which occurred did not arise
    from any negligence on his part. But the defence presented to the judge
    was that Mr. Jordan never went beyond a trial of forceps. It is true that,
    if all goes well, there may be no clear line of demarcation between trial
    of forceps and actual delivery by forceps, the one merging into the other.
    But that is not to say that there does not arise, however fleetingly, a stage
    when the operator has to consider whether he can safely go further. At
    one time, however, Mr. Jordan referred in evidence to his " attempt at
    " forceps delivery, followed by Caesarean section ", and in his pleaded
    defence it was expressly admitted that he " attempted but abandoned a
    " forceps delivery and then proceeded to deliver the plaintiff by Caesarean
    " section ", an admission which his learned counsel told this House was
    due to an oversight and should not have been made. It could well be
    that it was on the basis of such material that the learned trial judge
    expressed himself as " doubtful whether Mr. Jordan was in fact undertaking
    " a trial of forceps, as opposed to an attempt at vaginal delivery which
    " failed . . ." .

    But the point is a fine one, and it should not of itself lead to the
    condemnation of the defendant. In his dissenting judgment, Donaldson
    LJ. concluded that the evidence of Mrs. Whitehouse being " pulled down
    " towards the bottom of the bed, in the sense that her body was moved "
    could not be right, and he added:

    " But, having said that, I still have to decide whether the judge's
    " conclusion was wrong, and I am not satisfied that it was. Reading
    " the judgment as a whole, it seems to me that Mrs. Whitehouse's
    evidence was treated as no more than consistent with, or, at most,
    " confirmatory of Professor McLaren's report, and that even if Mr.
    " Justice Bush had put her evidence on one side, he would still have
    " reached the same conclusion ".

    If that is right, as with respect it seems to be, the outcome of these
    proceedings was regarded by the learned judge as finally turning on the
    use of one word. I daresay that at times even greater issues have turned
    on less. But that word cannot properly be considered out of context, and
    I again stress that the whole drift of the lengthy McLaren report was that
    the Whitehouse baby had been delivered in accordance with the highest
    professional standards. Such being the setting, to hold that the threefold
    use of " disimpaction " should be regarded as establishing that the complete
    opposite was the truth is, in my judgment, to impose on it an excessive
    and insupportable burden.

    Such, at least, is my conclusion about this distressing case. It has
    evidently caused me greater difficulty than it has any of my noble and
    learned brethren. But I have at last found myself impelled and compelled
    to hold that, despite the great care and ability manifested by the learned
    judge, there was lacking the evidence needed to uphold his basic finding
    that Mr. Jordan " pulled too hard and too long, so that the foetus became
    " stuck ". I therefore concur in holding that the appeal should be dismissed.


    Lord Fraser of Tullybelton

    My Lords,

    This is an action of damages for professional negligence against a
    senior registrar at Birmingham Maternity Hospital. After a long trial, the
    learned judge held negligence established against the registrar, but the
    Court of Appeal by majority (Lord Denning M.R. and Lawton L.J., with
    Donaldson L.J. dissenting) reversed his decision. They did so not because
    they considered that the learned trial judge had mis-stated the relevant
    law. Clearly he did not; he said, rightly in my opinion, that negligence
    for the purposes of this case meant " a failure ... to exercise the standard
    " of skill expected from the ordinary competent specialist having regard
    " to the experience and expertise that specialist holds himself out as
    " possessing." He added the proviso that the skill and expertise to be
    considered were those applying in 1969 to 1970. Although that statement
    was not criticised in the Court of Appeal, Lord Denning M.R. did criticise
    a later sentence in the judgment because, in his view, it suggested that the
    law made no allowance for errors of judgment by a professional man.
    Referring to medical men, Lord Denning said:

    " If they are to be found liable [sc. for negligence] whenever they
    " do not effect a cure—or whenever anything untoward happens—it
    " would do a great disservice to the profession itself."

    That is undoubtedly correct, but he went on to say this:

    " We must say, and say firmly, that, in a professional man an
    " error of judgment is not negligent."

    Having regard to the context, I think that the learned Master of the Rolls
    must have meant to say that an error of judgment " is not necessarily
    " negligent ". But in my respectful opinion, the statement as it stands is
    not an accurate statement of the law. Merely to describe something as an
    error of judgment tells us nothing about whether it is negligent or not. The
    true position is that an error of judgment may, or may not, be negligent;
    it depends on the nature of the error. If it is one that would not have been
    made by a reasonably competent professional man professing to have the
    standard and type of skill that the defendant held himself out as having,
    and acting with ordinary care, then it is negligent. If, on the other hand,
    it is an error that such a man, acting with ordinary care, might have made,
    then it is not negligent.

    The main reason why the Court of Appeal reversed the judge's decision
    was that they differed from him on the facts. The question therefore is
    whether the Court of Appeal was entitled to reverse the judge's decision
    on a pure question of fact. The view of the judge who saw and heard the
    witnesses as to the weight to be given to their evidence is always entitled
    to great respect. We were reminded particularly of dicta to that effect in
    The Hontestroom (1927) A.C. 37 and Powell v. Streatham Manor Nursing
    [1935] A.C. 243, and there is other high authority to the same effect.
    But in this case, unlike cases such as Powell and The Hontestroom, no
    direct issue of credibility arises. It is not suggested that any witness, or
    body of witnesses, was giving dishonest evidence. The only witness whose
    reliability is seriously in question is Mrs. Whitehouse, the mother of the
    plaintiff, and I shall refer to the critical part of her evidence in a moment.
    Apart from her evidence, the important facts are almost entirely inferences
    from the primary facts, and in determining what inferences should
    properly be drawn, an appellate court is just as well placed as the trial
    judge. Accordingly this is a case where the judge's decision on fact is
    more open to be reassessed by an appellate court than it often is.

    The learned judge expressed his conclusion as to the primary facts which
    had been established with admirable clarity and conciseness, as follows:

    " On the balance of probabilities I have come to the conclusion,
    " firstly that the damage to the brain of Stuart [the infant plaintiff] was
    " not the result of inherent maldevelopment, and secondly that asphyxia


    " or anoxia caused the brain damage, and thirdly that the asphyxia
    " itself was caused by some event between 23.45 and 00.25 hours,—that
    " is between the commencement of the trial of forceps and the
    " delivery of the child by Caesarean section."

    That passage in the judgment is immediately followed by a repetition of the
    caution, to be found elsewhere in the judgment, that such damage may be
    caused by the violent event of birth itself and " may occur without
    " professional fault on the part of those having the care and management
    " of the patient ". So the learned judge was evidently on his guard against
    treating this as a case of res ipsa loquitur.

    He then turned to consider what evidence there was on the vital question
    of whether " unprofessional force ", by which he evidently meant excessive
    force, had been applied by Mr. Jordan when using forceps. He relied
    firstly on the evidence of Mrs. Whitehouse herself, and secondly on what he
    regarded as " perhaps the strongest piece of evidence that something
    " untoward was done "—namely the report by Professor McLaren who was the
    Head of the Department in which Mr. Jordan worked, and who himself was
    a distinguished obstetrician. Professor McLaren was ill at the time and
    was not present at the birth. Thirdly, the learned judge relied on the
    evidence of Mr. Jordan, the first defendant. I must consider these pieces of

    The evidence of Mrs. Whitehouse was that when Mr. Jordan pulled on
    the forceps she had " felt something like a deadened electric shock that
    " lifted my hips off the table ". All the medical evidence was that
    Mrs. Whitehouse was not, and could not have been, lifted up off the table
    by the pulling on the forceps because the traction would have been in a
    downward direction. The judge therefore rejected Mrs. Whitehouse's
    of what had occurred as being mistaken. He had already rejected
    her evidence on several points relating to her treatment in the earlier stages
    of pregnancy. So far as this matter is concerned, it is not surprising that
    she was mistaken considering her condition at the time to which she was
    referring. She had been without sleep, according to her own account, for
    40 hours by this time. She had not had any food because she had been
    vomiting, and as she put it herself " I was at the end of the line really ".
    Above all the lower part of her body was under epidural anaesthetic which
    meant that it was largely without sensation. But the judge, having rejected
    Mrs. Whitehouse's account, went on to accept an interpretation of it
    suggested by Sir John Stallworthy one of the medical experts who gave
    evidence on behalf of the plaintiff. He said that he interpreted
    Mrs. Whitehouse's evidence as meaning that she had been pulled down off
    the bed and then lifted back on to it by the medical staff. That interpretation
    was never put to Mr. Jordan or to the other medical witness who had been
    present at the time (Dr. Skinner) although Dr. Skinner was asked about
    Mrs. Whitehouse's original account of being lifted up off the bed and
    denied that any such thing had occurred. It would be natural for
    Dr. Skinner to feel professional and personal loyalty towards Mr. Jordan,
    was his superior and also his friend, and who had taken charge of the
    delivery because Dr. Skinner felt that it was beyond his competence. I
    would therefore have been prepared to discount his evidence to some extent
    if it had stood alone, but the learned judge does not indicate any doubt about
    its reliability, and so far as it goes it is entirely consistent with the evidence
    of the medical experts as to the impossibility of Mrs. Whitehouse's account.
    The learned judge's conclusion about Mrs. Whitehouse's evidence on this
    matter was expressed thus:

    " Though Mrs. Whitehouse's description of what occurred to her
    " when the forceps were applied may not be exact in its clinical detail,
    " I believe her, in so far as her description can be taken to be
    " understood, as a pulling of her toward the bottom of the delivery
    " bed in a manner and with such force as to be inconsistent with a trial
    " of forceps properly carried out."


    In my opinion that conclusion contains two serious flaws, either of which
    would be enough to make it unacceptable. Firstly I do not consider that
    it is permissible to accept Mrs. Whitehouse's evidence " in so far as " her
    description can be taken to mean something different from what she said,
    and something which was not tested by a cross examination of the
    witnesses, including the defendant and Dr. Skinner, who could have
    confirmed or denied it. I agree with Lawton L.J. who said this:

    " In Lord Sumner's words in the The Hontestroom the trial judge in
    " this case ' palpably misused his advantage ' in having seen and heard
    " the mother. These advantages could not be used, as the trial judge
    " used them, to turn an account of what had happened which physically
    " could not have taken place, into one which could."

    Secondly, even if the interpretation of Mrs. Whitehouse's evidence were
    correct, it would not by itself indicate that the degree of force used was
    excessive and inconsistent with a trial of forceps delivery properly
    carried out.

    I come now to Professor McLaren's report. This was written in answer
    to a request from the hospital administrator for information. It was
    based partly on the clinical notes and partly on oral discussion with Mr.
    Jordan, and it was shown to Mr. Jordan before being sent (by Mr. Jordan)
    the administrator. It can, therefore, be regarded as having been
    accepted by Mr. Jordan and as having possible evidential value against
    him. There was one word in the report upon which the learned judge
    particularly relied for drawing an inference unfavourable to Mr. Jordan.
    was the word " disimpacted ". It was used, as the judge pointed out,
    no less than three times in the report. Probably the most significant use
    was in the following sentence which is quoted in the judgment:

    " Descent, however, did not follow traction and in the interest of
    " the child the head was disimpacted prior to speedy delivery by
    " Caesarean section."

    The importance attached to the word by the judge arose in this way. He
    said " For something to be disimpacted it must first have been impacted "
    and he relied upon a definition of the word " impacted " in relation to a
    foetus given in Steadman's Medical Dictionary as follows:

    " Denoting a foetus that, because of its large size or narrowing of
    " the pelvic canal, has become wedged and incapable of spontaneous
    " advance or recession."

    That definition was accepted by several of the medical experts, though
    not by all of them, and the learned judge considered that, if the head was
    impacted, that indicated that it had become tightly stuck or wedged
    between parts of the bony structure of the pelvis and that it had been
    pulled by forceps too long or too hard. I do not think that the latter part
    of his conclusion was justified. Professor McLaren in his evidence
    apologised for using the word. He said that it was not a good word but
    it was one that he was accustomed to use, though he did not intend it to
    suggest that there had been such wedging that one needed a lot of force
    to push the head up again before embarking upon the Caesarean section.
    It seems that Professor McLaren's apologetic evidence made an unfavour-
    able impression upon the judge and his finding on the matter was expressed

    " It is with regret that I find it difficult to accept Professor McLaren's
    " explanation of his use of the word ' impacted ' ".

    I have tried to make proper allowance for the importance to be attached
    to the judge's view on this matter but I have reached the opinion that the
    Court of Appeal was entitled to differ from it for these reasons. Firstly,
    the conclusion of the Professor's report was to the effect that Mrs.
    Whitehouse had received excellent care while in the hospital, and in


    particular he said that there was no evidence that she had anything but
    " first class obstetric care ". That conclusion would have been impossible
    if the obstetrician concerned, Mr. Jordan, had employed forceps with
    excessive force, and it is therefore very unlikely that the Professor used
    the word " disimpacted " in a sense intended to imply that such force had
    been used. It is also unlikely that Mr. Jordan would have passed the
    report, containing that word, without objection if he had understood the
    word in that sense. Secondly, the medical evidence as a whole showed
    that the word is used with various shades of meaning, and that it does not
    necessarily mean that the foetus is so firmly wedged or stuck as to require
    much force to dislodge it. The medical evidence showed also that the
    exact degree of force which could properly be used was a matter for expert
    judgment by a skilled obstetrician and might vary considerably according
    to circumstances. Thirdly, (and in my opinion of considerable importance)
    when the two expert witnesses who gave evidence for the plaintiff were
    preparing their joint report (or rather approving the joint report which was,
    rather surprisingly, " settled " for them by counsel), they did not emphasise
    Professor McLaren's reference to " disimpaction "; if it was really so fatal
    to the defendant's case as the learned judge seems to have thought, one
    would have expected them to fasten on it at once. It seems to me, therefore,
    that he attached too much importance to it.

    Apart from the use of that one word, the learned judge evidently regarded
    Professor McLaren's report as a whole as indicating that the defendant
    had pulled too hard and too long. That may have been partly because
    he treated the expression " descent did not follow traction " as meaning
    that the foetus did not descend at all as a result of traction. That meaning
    was urged upon us in argument, but I do not accept it because if no descent
    took place, i.e. if the foetus did not move downwards at all as a result of
    traction, the impaction (whatever may be the exact meaning of the word)
    could not have been caused by the traction. I read the expression as
    meaning, what Mr. Jordan said it meant, that descent did not continue to
    the extent of delivery. So read, the statement is correct but throws no
    light on the question we are considering. I think much of the importance
    attached by the learned judge to the report was due to the statement it
    contained that " after a reasonable attempt at delivery by forceps a
    " Caesarean section was carried out." (My emphasis.) The significance
    of the words emphasised is that a distinction was drawn by the medical
    witnesses between a trial of forceps delivery (generally abbreviated to a
    trial of forceps) and an attempted forceps delivery. The former should be
    very tentative and gentle. The latter, in which stronger traction is
    permissible, should never be embarked upon unless the physician's clinical
    judgment permits him to conclude unequivocally that he can deliver the
    patient safely per vaginam. Mr. Jordan in his evidence was insistent that
    he never got beyond the trial stage and that the fact of his having used
    five or six pulls did not indicate the contrary. He did not profess to
    remember every detail of what he had done, and his evidence was based
    on the clinical notes and on his usual practice, but he was quite clear
    about what he must have done. He said that, taking six pulls as the total,
    he must have made some progress until the fifth pull. The fifth pull made
    no progress and the sixth pull would have confirmed that no further
    progress was possible consistent with safety. The learned judge did not
    in terms reject that evidence nor did he express any reservation about Mr.
    Jordan's evidence as a whole. What he said, in the decisive paragraph of
    his opinion, was this:

    " In all these circumstances I am doubtful whether Mr. Jordan
    was in fact undertaking a trial of forceps as opposed to an attempt
    " at vaginal delivery which failed, and in the course of which the
    " baby was wedged, stuck or jammed, and which on anyone's view
    " of the matter would be unjustified. However, in any event if it were
    " a trial of forceps then he pulled too hard and too long so that the foetus
    " became wedged or stuck. In getting it wedged or stuck, or unwedged
    " or unstuck, Mr. Jordan caused asphyxia which in its turn caused


    " the cerebral palsy. In this respect Mr. Jordan fell below the very
    " high standard of professional competence that the law requires of
    " him."

    It seems to me with respect that the learned judge was seeking to draw
    too sharp a line between a trial of forceps delivery and an attempted
    forceps delivery. The former, if it makes progress, will merge into the
    latter, and may be carried on to a complete delivery. Whether Mr. Jordan
    moved from the trial stage to the attempted delivery stage is really a
    question of words; the important issue is whether there was evidence that,
    in the learned judge's words, " he pulled too hard and too long so that the
    " foetus became wedged or stuck." He himself denied that it ever became
    wedged or stuck, and I have already explained why I do not think that
    Professor McLaren's use of the word " impacted " means stuck. The
    evidence which seems to me to come nearest to convicting him of negligence
    in this respect is his own. He explained, what after all is obvious, that
    the purpose of pulling with forceps is to overcome resistance to the descent
    of the foetus down the natal canal and that after the fifth pull he would
    have had to make a decision whether to continue, and whether a " little extra
    " pressure or traction [would] deliver this head past that bony obstruction
    or not ". It was argued that that passage in Mr. Jordan's evidence, and
    some other passages to the like effect, showed that he was willing to pull
    too hard. But the trial judge does not seem to have thought so, and nor
    do I. The mere fact that he pulled five or six times is no indication of
    how hard he pulled. After he had finished the trial of forceps he pushed
    the foetal head upwards to facilitate removal of the foetus by Caesarean
    section, but that again does not indicate that it had become wedged; it is a
    normal preliminary to Caesarean section, as Dame Josephine Barnes
    explained. In these circumstances there was in my opinion no sufficient
    evidence to justify a finding that he had been negligent.

    I would therefore dismiss the appeal.

    I respectfully agree with the observations of my noble and learned
    friend Lord Wilberforce in the final paragraph of his speech about his
    concern as to the manner in which part of the expert evidence for the
    plaintiff was organised.

    Lord Russell of Killowen

    My Lords,

    I wish at the outset to emphasise one matter. Some passages in the
    Court of Appeal might suggest that if a doctor makes an error of judgment
    he cannot be found guilty of negligence. This must be wrong. An error
    of judgment is not per se incompatible with negligence, as Donaldson L.J.
    pointed out. I would accept the phrase " a mere error of judgment " if the
    impact of the word " mere " is to indicate that not all errors of judgment
    show a lapse from the standard of skill and care required to be exercised
    to avoid a charge of negligence.

    The details of this case and the reasons for dismissing this appeal have
    been so fully canvassed by my noble and learned friends that there is
    but little that I can add, without tedious repetition, in saying that I agree
    to that dismissal.

    As has been pointed out, and as Sir John Stallworthy accepted, there was
    no indication from the foetal heartbeats that during the trial of forceps
    delivery the foetus was in any way distressed. They were normal.

    The learned judge, in a passage quoted by your Lordships, which came
    immediately before his conclusion of negligence by Mr. Jordan, in that he
    pulled too long and too hard, inferred from evidence given by the mother
    that she was physically pulled down the bed. This I think was quite


    without justification on the basis of her evidence which did not point to
    that at all. It was not permissible to erect a theory of what she might have
    said but did not say, and base a conclusion of negligence at least in part upon
    that theory. It may be that the judge borrowed the theory from medical
    evidence given on behalf of the Plaintiff: but the medical experts were
    no more entitled than the judge to read the mother's rejected evidence as
    intended to mean something totally different. As has been pointed out it
    was never suggested to Mr. Jordan that his activities pulled the mother
    towards him. As to the report written by Professor McLaren (and shown to
    Mr. Jordan) two points were sought to be made. The first was its statement
    that descent did not follow traction: I see nothing in this: it means not
    that no progress at all resulted from the trial of forceps delivery
    but that there was no delivery by forceps. The second was the
    reference to disimpaction. Much evidence was given as to the meaning of
    disimpaction and impaction, and what was involved in " stuck" and
    " wedged ". All these words are words of degree. " Impacted " may simply
    mean that the foetus is unable to move either way spontaneously, and some
    assistance is required. The mere fact that some assistance was required to
    " disimpact " cannot show negligence: if it did, the joint medical report
    would not merely have mentioned disimpaction but would surely have said
    that it proved negligence.

    My Lords, I also would dismiss this appeal.

    Lord Bridge of Harwich

    My Lords,

    At twenty-five minutes past midnight on 7th January 1970 the appellant
    was born at the Birmingham Maternity Hospital. The mother had been in
    labour since the early hours of the 6th. The possibility of a difficult birth
    had been anticipated by the medical authorities at the hospital responsible
    for her case. By 11.30 p.m. on the 6th, the mother was fully dilated. From
    that point onwards the first respondent, now a consultant obstetrician, then
    a senior registrar in Professor McLaren's unit at the hospital, was in
    charge of the operation of delivering the child. He concluded from his
    examination of the mother that a normal delivery was out of the question.
    At 11.45 p.m. he proceeded to undertake a " trial of forceps ". In the light
    of this trial he decided that delivery per vaginam would be too traumatic for
    the mother and the child. Accordingly he proceeded to effect delivery by
    Caesarean section. The child was found to have sustained severe brain

    Bush J., the trial judge, made a finding, which is not challenged, that the
    brain damage to the appellant was caused by anoxia occurring at some time
    between the beginning of the trial of forceps and the delivery of the child.
    This might seem to the layman to suggest some improper use of the forceps,
    but any such suggestion is emphatically refuted by the evidence. It is
    common ground that a child may, in the course of an apparently normal,
    birth, suffer anoxia for which no specific cause can be assigned and certainly
    that the mere fact of anoxia occurring when it did in the course of the
    appellant's birth affords no evidence whatsoever of fault on the part of the
    first respondent.

    The judge's finding of negligence against the first respondent (on which
    the vicarious liability of the second respondent in turn depends) is based on
    a finding that in using the forceps " he pulled too hard and too long so that
    the foetus became wedged or stuck " and that " in getting it wedged or
    stuck, or unwedged or unstuck " the first respondent caused the anoxia
    which occasioned the brain damage. In the light of the direction the judge
    had given himself early in his judgment in defining the criterion to be applied
    to decide whether the first respondent was negligent (a direction which I do


    not criticise) this finding must be understood as implying that the first
    respondent applied traction to the foetus with the forceps which both in
    strength and duration exceeded what any competent obstetrician of the status
    of senior registrar would have regarded as the permissible limits in carrying
    out the procedure of a trial of forceps. The judge's decision in favour of
    the appellants having been reversed by a majority in the Court of Appeal,
    the sole question, as it seems to me, which your Lordships' House has to
    decide is whether the judge's finding that the first respondent applied
    excessive traction to the foetus in the sense indicated above can be supported
    on the evidence.

    My Lords, I recognise that this is a question of pure fact and that in the
    realm of fact, as the authorities repeatedly emphasise, the advantages which
    the judge derives from seeing and hearing the witnesses must always be
    respected by an appellate court. At the same time the importance of the
    part played by those advantages in assisting the judge to any particular
    conclusion of fact varies through a wide spectrum from, at one end, a
    straight conflict of primary fact between witnesses, where credibility is
    crucial and the appellate court can hardly ever interfere, to, at the other
    end, an inference from undisputed primary facts, where the appellate court
    is in just as good a position as the trial judge to make the decision. It
    has been strongly urged, on behalf of the appellant, that in this case the
    judge's assessment of the reliability of the witnesses, particularly of the
    first respondent himself and of his superior at the Birmingham Maternity
    Hospital, Professor McLaren, was of such critical importance to his decision
    as to render it unassailable and this view prevailed with Donaldson L.J., who
    dissented in the Court of Appeal, even though he in terms rejected one of
    the judge's subordinate findings on which his ultimate conclusion depended.
    At first blush I was much attracted to this view of the case but a close
    scrutiny of the judge's analysis of the evidence and of the particular features
    of the evidence on which he relied in support of his finding of negligence
    persuades me that that finding was not justified. I will consider in turn the
    four main aspects of the evidence on which the judge based his conclusion.

    1. The Mother's Evidence. The mother gave evidence emphatically
    that when the forceps were applied she was lifted up from the bed. Every-
    one accepted that this was impossible. Any pulling on the forceps is
    downward. The appellant's expert witnesses canvassed the possibility that
    the mother might have been pulled off the end of the bed and lifted back
    on to it. This was denied by Dr. Skinner, a witness who was present at the
    birth, and the suggestion was never even put to the first respondent in
    cross-examination. The mother's evidence at every other point where it
    was in controversy had been rejected by the judge. At the time of the
    trial of forceps she had been in labour for many hours and was under an
    epidural anaesthetic. Yet the judge said of her:

    " Though Mrs. Whitehouse's description of what occurred to her
    " when the forceps were applied may not be exact in its clinical
    " detail, I believe her, in so far as her description can be taken to be
    " understood as a pulling of her toward the bottom of the delivery
    " bed in a manner and with such force as to be inconsistent with a trial
    " of forceps properly carried out."

    Counsel for the appellant has not sought to support this part of the judge's
    judgment and it was rejected by all three members of the Court of Appeal.
    I agree with them. The mother's evidence could not be understood in the
    sense suggested and was manifestly incapable of affording any reliable
    indication of the degree of force applied with the forceps by the first

    2. Professor McLaren's Report. Following complaints by the appellant's
    parents to the Hospital Administrator, Professor McLaren, as head of the
    unit responsible, prepared a report on the circumstances of the appellant's
    birth. This was based in part on the hospital records, in part on discussion
    with the first respondent. In its express terms the report was wholly


    favourable to the first respondent. In his summary Professor McLaren

    " Finally an expert obstetrician in my team undertook the accepted
    " obsterical technique of tentative trial of forceps. After a reasonable
    " attempt at delivery by forceps a Caesarean section was carried out.
    " The baby, alas, was seriously affected by this well conducted trial of
    " labour and forceps."

    In expressing his opinion he added:

    " My own view is that both Mr. and Mrs. Whitehouse are naturally
    " very distressed although there is no evidence that she had anything
    " but first class obstetric care. We can appreciate the letter from
    " Mr. Whitehouse of 22.1.70 but we accept no criticism or implication
    " that in terms of being humane, or in technical skills, we neglected
    " Mrs. Whitehouse."

    Despite these passages the judge described the report as " perhaps the
    " strongest piece of evidence that something untoward was done ". He
    based this view on the use more than once in the report of the word
    " disimpaction " to describe the action of the first respondent, having
    decided to abandon the trial of forceps and proceed to Caesarean section,
    in pushing the head of the foetus upwards with the forceps to facilitate
    delivery by Caesarean section.

    It was common ground that a trial of forceps is a tentative procedure to
    discover whether the baby's head can pass safely through the mother's
    pelvis. The obstetrician must proceed gently and not attempt actual delivery
    unless and until he is satisfied that there is no such bony disproportion
    between head and pelvis as to present a risk of injury to the baby. Of
    course, if no significant obstruction is encountered, the trial of forceps will
    merge into an actual forceps delivery.

    Against this background a great deal of evidence was given by the
    expert witnesses on both sides as to the significance, in relation to the
    conduct of a trial of forceps, of the fact of the foetus becoming " stuck " or
    " wedged " in the course of it. A definition of " impacted " from Steadman's
    Medical Dictionary as " denoting a foetus that because of its large size or
    " narrowing of the pelvic canal has become wedged and incapable of
    " spontaneous advance or recession " was canvassed with the witnesses.

    Now it will be apparent that in any context the words " stuck" or
    " wedged " are imprecise. An object may be lightly or tightly stuck or
    wedged. The degree of force required to free it may be great or small.
    I can find nothing in the expert evidence to suggest that in an obstetric
    context the words as applied to a foetus described as " stuck " or " wedged "
    in the pelvic canal do not suffer from the same imprecision. If " impacted "
    is synonymous with " wedged " the same consideration must apply.

    The judge, however, has drawn the inference from Professor McLaren's
    use of the word " disimpaction " that the foetus had become so firmly
    wedged as to indicate that a degree of force must have been used by the first
    respondent in producing that result which was clearly excessive in a trial of
    forceps. He rejected Professor McLaren's explanation that he meant no
    more by " disimpaction " than what could be achieved by gently pushing
    the head of the foetus up out of the pelvic cavity with one finger.

    If Professor McLaren used the word " disimpaction " intending it to bear
    the meaning the judge attributed to it, the implications are twofold. First,
    Professor McLaren must have appreciated from what the first respondent
    told him that the trial of forceps had been misconducted and had ended
    in disaster; it would follow from this that the exculpatory passages in the
    report were a dishonest attempt to whitewash a subordinate. But secondly,
    it also reveals Professor McLaren as not only a knave but a fool who
    attempts a whitewash in one part of his report but gives the game away in
    another part.


    I find it impossible to suppose that the judge appreciated these
    far-reaching implications of the significance he was attaching to a single
    word in the Professor's report or that, if he had done so, he would have
    been prepared to stigmatise the witness in such a manner.

    3. The Foetal Heart Rate. The respondents relied at the trial, in support
    of their case that the trial of forceps was not the cause of the appellant's
    anoxia, on readings of the foetal heart rate during the trial of forceps
    being within normal limits. At 11.35 p.m. the rate was 140. At 11.45
    p.m., when the trial of forceps began, it was 130. It was the same five
    minutes later. At 12.10 a.m. when the trial of forceps concluded it was
    120. After the delivery of the baby at 12.25 a.m. the rate had fallen to
    100 or below. After referring to this evidence the judge commented:

    " Though all these readings save the one at 100 or below are within
    " normal limits, there is here a steady drop indicating to my mind
    " that something was wrong ".

    I take this comment to indicate that the judge not only rejected the evidence
    that the readings during the trial of forceps were inconsistent with anoxia
    being caused at that stage but also regarded the fall from 140 before the
    trial began to 120 when it concluded as affording some support for the
    contrary view. That view, however, was not expressed by any of the
    expert witnesses and indeed is contrary to all the expert evidence on the

    4. The Number of Pulls. The first respondent had recorded in his
    operation notes: " After pulling with five or six contractions it was obvious
    " that vaginal delivery would be too traumatic ". He accepted in evidence
    that he had probably exerted six pulls coincident with the mother's uterine
    contractions. The effect of his evidence was that, so far as he could
    remember or reconstruct the occasion, the first pull was extremely tentative
    and produced no movement. Thereafter, the next three pulls achieved
    some progress, the last two none. Having encountered difficulty on the
    fifth pull, he pulled once more to see whether a little extra traction would
    overcome the resistance he was feeling, but it did not. Sir John Peel, an
    expert witness called for the appellant, had based his criticism of the first
    respondent in part on the recorded note of five or six pulls but had said
    that it was " difficult to be dogmatic " about this.

    The judge refers to this issue in the following passage:

    " Sir John Peel, while conceding that the number of pulls may
    " depend on the progress being made, has said that he cannot under-
    " stand why it should have needed five or six pulls to test whether
    " delivery per vaginam was possible. Mr. Jordan's answer to this is,
    " as I have related above, that until say the fifth pull he was making
    " progress. If, as I have found, the head was engaged it would not
    " have all that far to go before the widest part of the head was at the
    " ischial spines, and I share Sir John Peel's doubt."

    The judge added a reference to two cryptic answers given in re-examination
    by the first respondent, but I refrain from quoting these because I confess
    that I do not follow what significance the judge attached to them.

    This is perhaps the most difficult part of the case, but I am satisfied
    that the criticism of the first respondent for exerting six pulls, qualified as
    it was, could not by itself sustain a finding of negligence against him.

    As regards the evidence of the first respondent, the judge records that,
    according to him, there was nothing unusual that occurred from the
    commencement of the trial of forceps to the delivery of the child. I
    appreciate, of course, that the judge's finding involves, by necessary
    implication, a rejection of this evidence. It is trite to observe, however,
    that rejection of a defendant's denial provides no material to establish the
    positive case sought to be made against him. On the other hand, if the


    judge had construed anything in the first respondent's evidence as amounting
    to an admission of fault on his own part (which the cryptic answers referred
    to above certainly did not provide), he would surely have made this
    abundantly clear and put it in the forefront of his reasons for making a
    finding of negligence against him.

    In the result I can find no sufficient foundation for this finding and would
    accordingly dismiss the appeal.

    312955 Dd 8013619 200 12/80

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