A newly introduced cut in fees for expert witnesses may mean that family courts struggle to find specialists willing to participate in care proceedings.
Expert witnesses offer opinions on key issues and help judges to assess the facts of a case and make rulings on whether or not to proceed with care orders.
But from this week their court fees have been cut by 20 per cent each, as the Ministry of Justice attempts to make further reductions in the legal aid budget. Child psychiatrists and paediatricians will now receive £108 per hour rather than £135, while independent social workers (i.e. those not working for local authorities and who can therefore give a second opinion on care cases) will receive £50.40 per house, rather than the earlier rate of £63.
Philip King is director of the Confederation of Independent Social Work Agencies. He said:
“Independent social workers provide specialist assessments in the most difficult cases. What will happen is that courts are not going to have the availability of independent opinion to help make decisions about cases. It will restrict the amount of opinion that judges say they need to make some of the most fundamental and far reaching decisions in children’s lives.”