Family Courts

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 10th September 2021.

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Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, whether the Government has plans to consult on the use of expert reports in the family court system.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The Government does not have any plans to consult on the use of expert reports in the family court system. There is already legislation in this area which emphasises the independence of experts and the key role of judicial discretion in determining when expert evidence should be put before the court.

Section 13 of the Children and Families Act 2014 makes provision in relation to the control of expert evidence, and of assessments, in children’s proceedings. This legislation is underpinned by detailed rules of court practice and procedure set out in the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and supporting Practice Directions. The Rules and Practice Directions are developed by the Family Procedure Rule Committee (FPRC), working in close conjunction with Government officials. The Committee is made up of judges and legal and lay practitioners all of whom are experts in family law.

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, the causes and possible solutions; the final report was published in October 2020. Recently, the Family Justice Council (FJC), a sub-group of the Family Justice Board (FJB), coordinated an event aimed at medical and allied health professions, family lawyers and members of the judiciary to encourage experts to offer their services in family justice system.

The Government, the President of the Family Division, the FJC and the FPRC therefore continue to consider issues in this area as they arise.

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