A consultation paper ‘Standards for Expert Witnesses in the Family Courts in England and Wales’ has been published, jointly, today by the Family Justice Council and the Ministry of Justice.
The standards were drafted by the Experts Working Group of the Family Justice Council. The Ministry of Justice proposes to give the standards teeth by requiring that, in publicy funded cases involving children, solicitors may instruct only those experts who meet the standards.
The standards seek to set out clear expectations relating to the qualifications and expertise of those instructed to give evidence in family proceedings.
The standards cover several areas including:
- the expert’s area of competence and its relevance to the particular case;
- maintaining expertise through Continuing Professional Development;
- statutory registration or membership of appropriate professional bodies;
- how to apply the standards to experts from overseas;
- compliance with the relevant Family Procedure Rules and Practice Directions;
- the need for solicitors and judges to provide feedback to experts; and
- good practice and transparency in relation to fees in publicly funded cases.
Dr Heather Payne, Chair of the Family Justice Council’s Experts Working Group, which drafted the standards said:
“The standards are designed to improve the quality, supply and use of expertise to improve outcomes for children in the family courts. They are intended to help experts and the courts alike, to ensure that they are delivering the relevant and high quality opinions based on the best possible evidence which the family courts need to help them make decisions.
The standards published for consultation today are intended encourage experts, and their professional bodies, to consider how best they can offer quality assured opinion appropriate to their disciplines when they are called upon to give expert evidence in family proceedings.”
The Chair of the Family Justice Council and President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, welcomed the joint consultation with the Ministry of Justice. He said:
“The Family Justice Review identified the excessive use of expert evidence, where it was adding little or no value, as a major cause of delay in many public law cases. It is, therefore, important for there to be clarity on when expert evidence is needed and greater assurance that it is provided by an expert, of the appropriate discipline, with appropriate professional qualifications and experience.
The draft standards set out in this document will make a valuable contribution to identifying appropriate expertise and promoting the more effective and intelligent use of expert evidence in family proceedings.”
The Family Justice Review, chaired by David Norgrove, was set up in January 2010 by Government to look at all aspects of the family justice system from court decisions on taking children into care to disputes over contact with children when parents separate or divorce. It gathered evidence from hundreds of people and groups with a personal and professional interest. It published an interim report in March 2011 and a final report in November 2011.