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Children & Child Custody

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Use of expert witnesses decreases in family courts

New research from Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, has found that the instruction of expert witnesses in cases in family courts involving care applications is decreasing.

Experts were instructed in 70% of the cases in Cafcass’ study sample, in contrast to a previous study of care applications, concluded in 2009, which found that experts were instructed in 92% of cases.

This finding is in line with government-approved recommendations in The Family Justice Review, published in 2011, which acknowledged the positive contribution of expert evidence, but identified a “trend towards an increasing and, we believe, unjustified use of expert witness reports, with consequent delay for children”.

While the study found that fewer experts were instructed in the sample cases than has been found in previous research, Cafcass Children’s Guardians surveyed felt that those who were instructed were beneficial to cases, rating 88% of expert witnesses as “overall beneficial”.

Regarding the research findings, Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas said:

“We know the negative impact that delay has on children and Cafcass will continue to work with agencies in the family justice system to ensure that experts are only commissioned where additional expertise to that of the social worker and Children’s Guardian is required.”

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