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Letter in The Times

The Times have published a letter I wrote to them about Expert Witnesses and family court proceedings today. It is behind the paywall so I will copy it here: Sir, Andrew Christie is right in seeing the low quality of expert evidence as being a problem. However, the experts are already appointed by the parties jointly to a case. This results in them acting as the hired guns of the local authorities because of the inequality of arms that arises from the imbalance of power in the cases.

A simple way of reducing cost would be to remove the guardian ad litem and simply commission an independent social worker report. This would substantially reduce the legal costs and improve the quality of decision-making at the same time (as research recently published by Dr Julia Brophy shows).

What, however, is crucial is to allow wider scrutiny of the quality of expert opinions. It is still contempt of court for me as an MP to refer an expert to a regulator. The idea that family court experts themselves should be allowed to regulate the quality, as suggested by Judith Freeman, is risible. In the case of Lucy Allan (Camilla Cavendish, Opinion, Apr 12) the same expert gave two separate and contradictory opinions on the same person. Once for the local authority without meeting the mother and once privately when she did meet the mother. This should not be tolerated.

It is my assessment that of the order of 1,000 children a year are still being wrongly adopted because of the unreliability of the judicial process, caused mainly by the unreliability of the evidence. Because this happens mainly to poorer families their pain is not heard. My conclusions from studying many forms of secret court proceedings are that the greater the amount of judicial secrecy, the greater the tolerance of malpractice (such as reports written by psychologists who don’t meet the subject of the report). Part of the solution has to be to increase the amount of independent scrutiny.

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R v SUSSEX JUSTICES ex p McCARTHY [1924] 1 KB 256

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KING’S BENCH DIVISION

R v SUSSEX JUSTICES ex p McCARTHY [1924] 1 KB 256

November 9 1923

Editor’s comments in bold.

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