The Family Justice Council (“FJC”) is profoundly concerned at the shortage of experts willing to provide opinion evidence in family cases. The pressure which has been placed on medical experts, particularly paediatricians, following recent widely publicised criminal cases, has had a direct effect on family cases. That pressure exacerbates an already difficult situation in which experts have been deterred from engaging in this work by reason (for example) of the time involved, the lack of effective training, the fear of complaint, and, we are advised, the lack of proper funding.
The situation is undoubtedly grave.
The FJC has prioritised this issue in its early deliberations, forming a sub-group which has been mapping the various initiatives addressing the current problems in the supply and quality of expert witnesses in family cases.
One such initiative is that which was announced by the Minister for Children in June 2004, on the availability of medical expert resources to the family courts. That initiative has been carried forward by a ‘working party’ chaired by Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer. Sir Liam Donaldson is soon to be reporting to the Government (expected to be “early 2005”), following his wide consultation on the issues raised by his detailed terms of reference.
The FJC is concerned that no steps are taken now which would add a further disincentive to any expert who is considering undertaking this work, or who had been undertaking the work but is now ambivalent about continuing.