Expert Witnesses in Children Proceedings – An Update


On 24 May 2012 the Minister for Justice Jonathan Djanogly, announced:

“We are introducing early changes to the court rules through secondary legislation. The main elements are raising the threshold for the court to permit an expert to be instructed; requiring expert witness evidence to be necessary, rather than reasonably required; and in family proceedings concerning children, there will be a list of factors that the court must explicitly consider in deciding whether to permit an expert to be instructed. Those factors include the impact on the child of a delay and undergoing an assessment, the cost, and whether the information could or should be provided by one of the parties, such as the local authority. We will also require the court to exercise better control over the questions put to the expert and require solicitors to undertake preparatory work earlier in the process to reduce delays in the experts beginning work.

“We recognise that minimum standards are necessary for expert witnesses in the family court. We are working with the Department of Health, health regulators and the Family Justice Council to establish minimum standards that judges should expect from all expert witnesses. We are exploring how and whether we can implement the family justice review recommendation that meeting minimum standards should be a requirement for public funding. We will also consult key stakeholders on proposed minimum standards, which we hope to have in place later this year.”

I have written here (http://www.blanchardslaw.co.uk/?p=367) about the poor standard of expert reports in care proceedings, as exposed by Professor Jane Ireland. This means that children’s lives, and those of their families, could be seriously damaged by unqualified people writing flawed reports which are taken as authoritative by the courts. Residence or custody of children is being removed from their parents to the State on the basis of some very suspect opinions. It is good news that the government is now dealing with this appalling situation, after initially refusing to accept it as a problem. What solicitors on the ground are seeing however, is not always a thorough examination by the court on whether an appropriate expert is being instructed. Sometimes, the decision on whether to obtain a report is based solely on cost; that is the cheaper expert is ordered to do the work. This is not always the right result, and everyone with an interest in this area hopes that present government policy is not driven solely by costs savings.

 

I have written here (http://www.blanchardslaw.co.uk/?p=320) about removing anonymity of the experts from law reports, as there would seem to be no good reason to shield them. I maintain that this is still the best way to drive up the quality of both experts, and their reporting.

28 May 2012

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Blanchards Law has a great deal of experience of residence/custody of children issues. Please contact us on 0845 658 6639 or by email at pd@blanchards.co.uk