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The President of the Family Division Working Group on Medical Experts in the Family Courts – Final Report

|General|PFD Report|Family

The final report of the Working Group on Medical Experts in the Family Courts has been published today (Thursday 5 November 2020).

President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, said: “In recent years it has become increasingly difficult for the Family Justice system to find experts who are willing to give evidence in Family Court proceedings. The shortage has not only been of clinical experts but also allied health professionals and independent social workers. Expert evidence is often necessary in order to decide cases justly and the reduction in available experts therefore presents a serious problem. In autumn 2018 I asked Mr Justice David Williams to convene a Working Group drawn from the legal and health professions to investigate the problem and to suggest solutions.

“The report of Williams J’s group, which is published today, is a most thorough piece of work which makes 22 recommendations aimed at reducing expert shortages. Some of these recommendations include the development of online training resources, engagement of professional bodies, amendments to legal aid guidance in payment provision, as well as the requirement for greater efficiency in court paperwork and processes, and better local and regional co-ordination.  Helpfully the working group discerned a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud in that remote hearings demonstrated real advantages in making attendance at court hearings less disruptive of clinical practice and also in the convening of multi-disciplinary meetings.

“The work of the Group has already led to changes in the Legal Aid Agency processes that will improve witness participation.  The Family Justice Council will take many of the recommendations forward, encouraging health and other professionals to put their expertise to use in the family courts.

“It is my hope that a reinvigorated expert witness workforce will enable the Family Court to continue to deliver the best outcomes for children, young people and families.  Mr Justice Williams and I will be monitoring the implementation these recommendations over the next 12 months to make sure we retain the quality and quantity of experts needed.”