Experts giving evidence in family court cases should be accredited and registered on a central database, according to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.
ADCS president Matt Dunkley this week told a Community Care Live session on the family justice review that he had doubts about the credibility of some experts. He said a system of accreditation would ensure courts were getting the most reliable testimony possible.
“We need to give more power to judges to see what extra value the expert’s work will add,” Dunkley said. “At the moment there are too many experts in the system and they are not all equally credible.
“We need to use good experts more sparingly and in a more targeted way, so I would like to see a central register where experts would be registered and accredited.”
He also urged children’s services departments to ensure that their reports and assessments were indisputable. “We all have to step up to the mark and make sure that our assessments are top notch so that we can tell courts, hand on heart, that they don’t need another assessment from an expert,” Dunkley said.
He complained that expert assessments often duplicated ones made by local authorities and did not appear to have a significant impact on courts’ decisions, but did delay cases unnecessarily.
David Norgrove, chair of the family justice review, said the review was looking to streamline the use of experts. “There is an apparent tendency in some local authorities not to do proper assessments because they know the court will order another assessment.
“I have also seen expert assessments where 95 pages seem to repeat what a previous assessment has said, or where people can’t agree on what questions to ask an expert. This all causes delay. Some experts are also far too expensive.”
Norgrove acknowledged that experts were essential, but added: “There is a lot to be done to make their work more effective.”
Children’s guardians have previously raised concerns that local authority assessments and care plans are not always up to par, while a recommendation in the family justice review that courts should not focus on the details of care plans has caused controversy.
One guardian told Community Care: “Local authority practice is so variable that often those extra checks are needed. This would cut protection for children before there is any evidence that the quality of local authority social work has gone up.”
Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the family division at the High Court, told MPs in October that he wanted more power for judges to be able to monitor and scrutinise care plans.
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