Medical experts in the family courts consultation - Law Society response

The proposals

In Autumn 2018, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, established a working group to examine the scale of medical expert witness shortages in the family courts, to look at the causes and to identify possible solutions. Mr Justice Williams was appointed to Chair the group with representation from the judiciary, legal profession, Royal Medical Colleges and other interested bodies from across both the medical and legal profession.

The working group produced a report using information gathered from surveys of the legal and medical fields, as well as a symposium held in London in July. The report confirms the nature and extent of the shortages of medical and other health professional experts and identifies a wide range of causes and proposes solutions.

Our view

The Law Society welcomed the opportunity to respond to this consultation as this is an issue that our members have raised in the past and continue to face. It is important that the President is looking to improve the current situation regarding medical experts in these proceedings as they fulfil a vital role in helping courts reach decisions that are in the best interests of all parties.

We are also pleased to see that the consultation is looking at a cross-body approach, including proposals that will affect bodies in both the medical and professional fields. Cooperation between all those involved in these proceedings is essential and the legal aspects cannot be considered in a vacuum.

The recommendations are thorough, well considered and would generally greatly improve the current paucity and issues around quality of medical experts. However, we are concerned about where the resources for some of the proposals would come from and recommend that this is given more consideration.

Next steps

The consultation closed on 31 January.

The results of the consultation will be considered by the Family Division’s Working Group on Medical Experts in the Family Courts and final recommendations will be released in due course.

View the consultation on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website.