New national standards designed to raise the quality of expert witness evidence in family court cases and speed up proceedings became law on Wednesday 1 October 2014.
The standards were developed in partnership with the expert body the Family Justice Council. Changes to the family court rules will mean only qualified, experienced and recognised professionals will be able to give evidence as expert witnesses in family proceedings relating to children. This change follows the new laws implemented in April 2014 which mean expert evidence will now only be commissioned where a judge considers it necessary to resolve a case justly.
These changes form part of wide-ranging work to make sure delays in courts are minimised so that children and young people do not face unnecessary uncertainty. The average time taken for public family law cases has already been reduced from 55 weeks in 2011 to 30 weeks in 2014.
Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said:
We have put children at the heart of the family justice system, reducing delays that can have a harmful impact on them.
The new national standards for expert witnesses will make sure that only top quality evidence is presented, as and when the judge deems it necessary. They will help us to make sure cases are resolved as quickly as possible and on the basis of rigorous advice.
The standards include making sure that the expert:
- has knowledge appropriate to the court case
- has been active in the area of work or practice and has sufficient experience of the issues relevant to the case
- is either regulated or accredited to a registered body where this is appropriate
- has relevant qualifications and has received appropriate training
- complies with safeguarding requirements