New standards for expert evidence in family courts

It has been reported over recent months that the Government has been working to bring down to 26 weeks the average time taken for care cases to be concluded, to reduce the impact on children involved.  The average has apparently been cut from over 56 weeks to 45 weeks, and reducing the delays created by expert witnesses has been a key factor.

Attempts to streamline children and other family proceedings continue.  In conjunction with the introduction at the end of January 2013 of a new Part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules, which reduced the number of expert witnesses giving evidence in a case, the Ministry of Justice has proposed new standards for expert evidence adduced in family proceedings so that such evidence can be given only by qualified, experienced and recognised professionals.  This will exclude ‘so-called experts who are not up to scratch’.

The Government has recognised that there has been an increasing trend for expert witnesses to provide unnecessary and costly evidence — in the form of further written statements, clarifications and additional court appearances — which can cause major delays and even force cases to be started again.  It is reported that, in the 12 months prior to October 2011, £52 million of Legal Aid was spent on expert reports.

A consultation on this matter ran until 18 July 2013.  Its conclusions are keenly awaited.

For further information and advice, please contact our Child Care team on: