Expert psychologists instructed in family cases are often “inadequately qualified”, produce poor quality reports and delegate key parts of the work to graduate assistants.
A report by the University of Central Lancashire, funded by the Family Justice Council, found that one in five expert psychologists were “inadequately qualified” on the basis of their submitted CV. Two-thirds of experts’ reports reviewed were rated as below the required standard.
In one court, all expert witness psychology reports were generated by witness companies, who took commission for the instructions. Some experts used graduate assistants to compile background or interview parents.
A total of 90% of instructed experts had no clinical practice apart from their expert witness work.
The report, Evaluating Expert Witness Psychological Reports: Exploring Quality, by Professor Jane Ireland, looked at 126 expert psychological reports in family court proceedings from 180 court bundles across three UK courts between 2009 and 2011.
Ireland said: “Although there are some unavoidable limitations in a study of this nature, such as sample size, we were concerned about the limited stated qualifications and current clinical experience of some of the experts commissioned to provide reports.”
The report, published in March, recommends that judges assess experts for competence more thoroughly; that courts do not rely on expert witness commissioning companies; that the expert’s instruction clarifies that the work should not be delegated to assistants; and that experts should be currently engaged in practice.