Skip to main content

Family Courts: Witnesses

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 122847, tabled on 10 February 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, if he will conduct a review of the use of expert psychological witnesses in the family courts for the purposes of ensuring credibility, standards and consistency among experts particularly where allegations of domestic abuse have been made.

Answered on

25 February 2022

The Government does not have any plans to conduct a review on the use of expert psychological witnesses in the family courts. Part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 stipulates the requirements and standards determined of all expert witnesses when they and their evidence are put before the family court. This legislation also emphasises the independence of experts and the key role of judicial discretion throughout this process.

Section 13 of the Children and Families Act 2014 makes detailed provision in relation to the control of expert evidence, and of expert assessments, in children proceedings, and is underpinned by detailed provision for practice and procedure set out in the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and supporting Practice Directions developed by the Family Procedure Rules Committee (FPRC).

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, established a working group to identify the scale of the problem of medical expert witness shortages in the family courts. A report was published in October 2020 which looked at the causes and possible solutions.

In October 2021 the President of the Family Division published a memorandum which seeks to explain the principles applied by the Family Court when it considers whether to authorise or admit expert evidence. This memorandum includes the reminder that experts should only be instructed when to do so is ‘necessary’ to assist the court in resolving issues justly.