Family Law Hub

Research published on the use of expert witnesses

MoJ funded research examines the impact of Practice Direction 25B on the use of experts in children cases

  • A research report, funded by the MoJ, on the use of experts in children proceedings has been published. The research was undertaken by a team from Coventry University and the MoJ to assess the impact of changes introduced under Practice Direction 25B which was implemented in 2013.

    The report, titled The use of experts in family law: Understanding the processes for commissioning experts and the contribution they make to the family court, used a 'mixed-methods study' in 2 phases:

    Phase 1 – conducted between November 2013 and February 2014 – included "four data collection exercises: an online survey and seven focus groups conducted with professionals involved in family law proceedings (including experts), eight interviews with the judiciary and a quantitative analysis of 298 cases to examine the timeliness of expert reports both before and after the Rule changes." 

    Phase 2 – conducted between June and December 2014 – used materials from closed family law cases to "guide discussion and evaluate aspects of the expert process during four discussion groups and in four additional judicial interviews".

    The report's conclusions can be summarised as follows: 

    • the nature of the sample means that the views and experiences of psychologists and psychiatrists are over-represented
    • at the time of the fieldwork, conducted between November 2013 and December 2014, participants believed that the introduction of the new Rules had led to a decline in the commissioning of experts
    • participants raised some concerns that the changes resulted in a reduced pool of available experts alongside frustration with the fees and hours available to complete publicly-funded expert work
    • expert reports were being filed more quickly since the introduction of the new Rules, and there was a general consensus that there is a strong commitment to meet the timeframes outlined in the Public Law Outline
    • delay was rare but participants identified areas of good practice that could help reduce it in future. For instance, it was seen as important that letters of instruction (LoIs) include the contact details of the parties to a case so experts are not unnecessarily delayed in completing their reports
    • continued efforts to ensure that letters of instruction (LoIs) are clear, focused, and include only the minimum number of case-specific questions required to appropriately instruct the expert are particularly important in making the process efficient
    • expert reports should be concise – at a maximum of 20 pages – and sensibly structured, containing only case-specific information within the expert's area of expertise. They should also include a summary and contents page
    • feedback on reports was felt to be important but it was not regularly provided. Developing a process to help get this feedback might therefore be helpful
    • routine recording and sharing of final judgments to experts was also raised as a potential solution
    • it was suggested that not all social workers have the same level of necessary skills or confidence as independently appointed experts to present evidence effectively to the court so additional training and a recognition that providing evidence to the court is an integral part of the social worker's role might be useful. 

    You can read the full paper on the MoJ website here

News, published: 17/12/2015


Published: 17/12/2015


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