Society responds to expert witness study

A report into the quality of psychological experts and their court reports witness reports used in family courts has identified concerns about the qualifications of experts and the quality of reports.

The Society welcomes the study, which was funded by the Family Justice Council. The work, led by Professor Jane Ireland, of the University of Central Lancashire and Mersey Care NHS Trust, is the first evaluation of expert evidence.

Professor Ireland, a Chartered Psychologist said: "The crucial decisions made by family courts on issues such as the custody of children, domestic violence and sexual violence have life changing consequences.

"Reports by psychological experts can play an influential role in a judge's final decision and yet, until now, research to assess the quality of reports has not been conducted."

Dr David Murphy, Chair of the Society's Professional Practice Board said: "The Society recognises how important it is that decisions reached by family courts are based on the best possible quality evidence, often this is psychological evidence. We are concerned by the suggestion that 1 in 5 experts were apparently not qualified.

"Professional bodies, such as the British Psychological Society, have an important role to play in establishing criteria to benchmark the quality of expert evidence, defining competencies and promoting good practice among expert witnesses.

"The BPS would be very pleased to engage with the Department of Justice to review the role of expert witnesses in this context and develop improved codes of practice and guidelines."

In 2010, the Society produced Psychologists as Expert Witnesses:
Guidelines and Procedure for England and Wales Third Edition

The Society's Learning Centre also runs a series of Best Practice in Expert Witness work workshops.

Thank goodness Professor Ireland and her team have raised these serious concerns about the failings of the reports produced by some so called 'expert witnesses'. Surely even one family that has to suffer the consequences of an inadequate expert witness, is one too many!

1. An evaluation of expert evidence? I don't think so. It is a flawed audit of reports, in some respects either poorly designed or poorly written up. So I query the Society's wisdom in welcoming it.
2. It is right to be concerned by the suggestion that 1 in 5 experts were apparently not qualified because that is not what the report says. It says that a fith of the reports were written by experts who were neither chartered nor HPC registered, which is rather different.
3. Could the Society not have made the point that if the Government had allowed HPC to protect the generic title 'psychologist', then the victims of poor reports would be able to complain to HPC and had their complaints investigated, whereas present arrangements do not permit HPC to investigate non-registrants?
4. Could the Society not have made some critical comment on the alarmist and inaccurate reporting of the study by the media?