DISPUTE RESOLUTION WEEK - The role of expert witnesses in children proceedings27th Sep 2012
Draft legislation, in line with Mr Justice Ryder’s proposals, has been recently published. As part of Resolution’s Dispute Resolution week, each day this week we will be publishing our Solicitor’s thoughts on these proposals. Today Emma Hamilton Cole, in the Family and Matrimonial Department, discusses the role of expert witnesses in children proceedings and the potential introduction of Judicial Control on there use.
In children proceedings expert evidence is used when dealing with matters which the parties, their advisors or the court do not have the expertise to deal with, such as where medical advice is required. This may involve the assessment of the psychological problems facing a child, by perhaps the instruction of a Psychologist and/or a Psychiatrist. The use of such experts can be pivotal and strike at the very heart of the issues facing the courts. However, there use can sometimes be unnecessary and overused having an overall adverse impact on the timeliness of the judicial process. Funding such expert reports also proves difficult as the costs may become exorbitant and beyond the reach of the parties or the Public purse in Legally Aided cases.
The proposals in respect of Mr Justice Ryder’s report are that the courts will have to give permission to the parties as to the instruction of an expert, and where a party obtains any expert evidence without the courts permission, this evidence will be inadmissible. The proposals allow for permission to be granted only where it can be shown that it is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly. In the courts assessment it will focus on a variety of factors including the welfare of the children concerned.
Provided the proposed provisions are implemented in a fair manner taking into consideration all of the relevant circumstances of every case, improvements as to the timeliness of the court process is a good thing and we welcome the positive effect this will have on the children concerned.