Consultation on new quality standards announced
New national standards to raise the quality of family expert witnesses were announced by the government today.
According to the new standards, evidence can only be given by witnesses deemed by the court to be qualified professionals.
Expert witnesses have wasted court time and caused major delays in child care cases, the Ministry of Justice said, by making unnecessary further written statements and additional court appearances. From October 2010 to 2011, £52m of legal aid was spent on family expert reports.
“Poor quality expert evidence can lead to unacceptable delays for children and their families,” justice minister Lord McNally said.
He said only the highest calibre of evidence would be permitted in family proceedings and putting standards in place would ensure that expert evidence was robust and cases were resolved more quickly.
“It is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss,” he said
The consultation, led by the Family Justice Council, follows on from recent changes which mean expert witnesses are only called when ‘necessary’, where previously they were called when ‘reasonably required’.
The new standards were drafted by the Family Justice Council’s expert witness working group.
Chair Dr Heather Payne said: “The standards are designed to improve quality, supply and use of expertise to improve outcomes for children in family courts.They are intended to help experts and the court alike.
“They also seek to provide the courts and lawyers with clear guidance on how to ensure that expert evidence is sought from an expert of the appropriate discipline, with appropriate professional qualifications”
The Family Justice Review by David Norgrove identified weaknesses in the quality of family expert witness evidence in proceedings involving children. The consultation will run until 18 July 2013.
SOURCE: Solicitors Journal