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Working group on medical experts in the family courts issues its final report

Date:6 NOV 2020
The final report of the working group established by the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, on medical experts in the family courts has been published. Mr Justice Williams was appointed to chair the working group, with representation from the legal profession, Royal Medical Colleges and other interested parties. The working group was established in autumn 2018, the impetus being feedback the President had received arising from his nationwide progress around the family courts following his appointment in July 2018. That feedback identified a particular problem with the availability of medical experts in relation to the cause of injuries which were the subject of fact-finding hearings. Later surveys identified a wider problem with the availability of medical and allied professions, in particular psychologists.
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Proposed solutions to the challenges faced by expert witnesses are listed at the end of the report. A consultation on the areas covered by the working group closed on 31st of January 2020 and the feedback received has been incorporated into the final report and the recommendations.

The President said in relation to the final report: 'The report of Williams J's group, which is published today, is a most thorough piece of work which makes 22 recommendations aimed at reducing expert shortages. Some of these recommendations include the development of online training resources, engagement of professional bodies, amendments to legal aid guidance in payment provision, as well as the requirement for greater efficiency in court paperwork and processes, and better local and regional co-ordination.  Helpfully the working group discerned a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud in that remote hearings demonstrated real advantages in making attendance at court hearings less disruptive of clinical practice and also in the convening of multi-disciplinary meetings. The work of the group has already led to changes in the Legal Aid Agency processes that will improve witness participation.  The Family Justice Council will take many of the recommendations forward, encouraging health and other professionals to put their expertise to use in the family courts. It is my hope that a reinvigorated expert witness workforce will enable the Family Court to continue to deliver the best outcomes for children, young people and families.  Mr Justice Williams and I will be monitoring the implementation these recommendations over the next 12 months to make sure we retain the quality and quantity of experts needed.'