The government has launched new guidance on the use of expert evidence in family courts.
The new standards were developed in conjunction with the Family Justice Council and will, the government claims, help to ensure that only properly qualified and experienced professionals are allowed to give evidence in cases relating to children.
According to the Ministry of Justice “one of the biggest causes of delays” in cases involving children are “the costly and unnecessary commissioning of additional written statements, clarifications and court appearances by expert witnesses.”
Lord McNally is Family Justice Minister. He belies the new standards will “put the welfare of children at the heart of the system, so only the highest calibre evidence is permitted and cases are resolved quickly.”
Heather Payne of the Family Justice Council hailed the reception given to the new standards. She said:
“I am delighted that the standards received such strong support from so many professional and regulatory bodies representing the wide range of experts who give evidence in family proceedings. I feel that this demonstrates a high degree of consensus among experts that court outcomes for children can be improved using clear standards of best practice…”
She added: “The standards are designed to improve quality, supply and use of expert evidence through peer review and benchmarking, support for multidisciplinary learning, and sanction of poor practice.”
Under the new standards, expert witnesses will, amongst other criteria, need to demonstrate that they have appropriate qualifications; knowledge relevant to the case; experience of the issues at hand; and where appropriate, they that they are accredited or regulated by a professional body.