Duncan Lewis

Family judges would permit expert evidence only if it is deemed “necessary”

Date: (4 February 2013)    |    

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From the 31st of January new rules have come into force which would mean judges ruling in family court proceedings can limit the number of expert witnesses giving evidence. The new rules will allow judges to speed up family cases by summoning fewer expert witnesses such as psychologists and doctors.

Evidence would be now allowed only if it is deemed necessary’ earlier expert evidence was allowed if the court felt there was a reasonable requirement of evidence.
The new guidance was drawn up by a committee of judges and family lawyers. It is based on the recommendations of the Family Justice Review published in 2011.
Part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules has been updated with the new requirements.
Lord Justice Munby, president of the Family Division, said there was no reason to doubt that families would be denied the chance to call evidence they needed to support their case or would be denied a fair hearing.
But the new requirement would give judges more control over expert evidence in family proceedings. The change of rule would give family judges the means to make strong case management decisions to make sure the expert evidence is focused and relevant.

Before deciding on the issue of whether to permit expert evidence, a list of factors has to be considered which includes the impact on the timetable and the cost of the expert evidence.

The Family Justice Review recommended in November 2011 that judges be given clear powers to control expert assessments. It also recommended that to be heard in court experts views should be essential to dispose of the case.

Munby LJ added the new change emphasises the importance of court in determining what expert evidence it would require to help reach decisions in a case.

For an active judicial case management which would prepare the ground for the new Single Family Court, coming into being in April 2014, this new change would be a vital component.
The unified ‘Single Family Court’ was proposed by Mr Justice Ryder in his judicial proposals for the modernisation of family justice, published last year.