A letter to the President of the Family Division: No unregulated expert shall be allowed to report in a family case

We, the undersigned have experience of experts in the family courts as either professionals or parents.

We are writing to request an amendment to Practice Direction 25 B so that no person may be permitted to submit an expert report involving the assessment of any child unless that person meets minimum standards of professional practice, which we assert are as follow. The expert must:

  • submit to an external regulatory or supervisory body which requires adherence to a Code of  Conduct
  • meet professional obligations as data controllers
  • provide clear and accessible formal complaints procedure

We are troubled by the number of experts involved in family proceedings who do not appear to meet some or all of these basic requirements.

Practice Direction 25B sets out the standards expected of expert witnesses  – see Annex paras 4 and 6.

The expert is up-to-date with Continuing Professional Development appropriate to their discipline and expertise, and is in continued engagement with accepted supervisory mechanisms relevant to their practice.

If the expert’s area of professional practice is not subject to statutory registration (e.g. child psychotherapy, systemic family therapy, mediation, and experts in exclusively academic appointments) the expert should demonstrate appropriate qualifications and/ or registration with a relevant professional body on a case by case basis.  Registering bodies usually provide a code of conduct and professional standards and should be accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (See Appendix 2). If the expertise is academic in nature (e.g. regarding evidence of cultural influences) then no statutory registration is required (even if this includes direct contact or interviews with individuals) but consideration should be given to appropriate professional accountability.

We feel strongly that the requirement to consider such regulation on a ‘case by case basis’ is potentially unfair to parents who may be acting in person and who may not initially appreciate the potential significance of a failure by any professional to submit to external regulation.

We are very concerned that parents who wish to raise significant concerns about the conduct of an expert who is not subject to external regulation, have no where to go other than the appeal process, which is clearly not a suitable mechanism to deal with the majority of complaints against an expert’s conduct.

We would be grateful if you would give our letter consideration.

SIGNATORIES as of 17th October 2019

Sarah Phillimore, Barrister

Professor Lauren Devine

Stephen Parker Senior Lecturer

Dr Sue Whitcombe  CPsychol AFBPsS

[email protected]

Carine Moller

Vinice Cowell

Ruth Tweedale, family law solicitor and lecturer

Alison Bushell, expert

Nicky Sole, parent.

Alice Tew

Deborah Hope

Mike Flinn , Child and Family Therapist , MBACP ( accred)

Roy Mackay, Family Law Reform Campaigner

Belinda Jones, FMC Family Mediator, AFCC Parenting Co-ordinator, GDL, LPC.

Trish Barry-Ralph ISW, expert witness

Ruaidhri Magee, Parent

Helen Taylor Social Worker

Dr Nick Child, BSc MB ChB MRCPsych MPhil Retired Child Psychiatrist and Family Therapist

Debi Richens, parent and grandparent

Tracey McMahon – Housing and Welfare Rights Practitioner

Nick Burke Social Worker

Rosie Dixon Psychologist

Alicia Leal Parent

Jennifer Cole, Midwife

Charlotta Bolton – Parent

Emma Cleaver – Parent

Julia O’Connor – Parent

Rachel Barnes

Dave Gwilliams

Amanda Hewitt-Coleman

Andrea Brougham

Rachel Gough

Simon Cushing

Shelly Wieczorek

Zainab Hassan

Tracy Stapleton Childcare Professional

Doreen Langford

Carol Newton

Lisa Blakey

Sofia Nilsson

Helen Woodhouse NHS Nurse

Emma French

Moira McCann Registered Childminder

Harriet Hughes

Maria Denny

Therese Lindberg

Samra Soliman

Izy Soliman

Marie Howell

Helen Green NHS

Hazel Rhoades

Louise Edwards

Jurate Puodz

Caroline Howe

Becci McFadyen

Sarah Tolson

Nina Coulianos

Padmini Baker

Charlotta Bolton

Lynn Aicorn

Anna Bradshaw

Heather Murray

Ekaterina Crawford

Laura Brooks Deputy Headteacher

Leah Moyse

Zoe Elisabeth

Alexander McKee

Maria Rosberg

Amanda Fakeerah

Alison Elstone

Laura Low-Douse

Sue Roberts

Victoria Cushing

Mark Howell

Nina Ayalon

Christina Lamb, parent.

26 thoughts on “A letter to the President of the Family Division: No unregulated expert shall be allowed to report in a family case

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      No, experts who are instructed pursuant to Part 25 of the FPR. SW and Guardians are already involved. Court won’t allow any additional experts unless it is ‘necessary’.

  1. Angelo Granda

    Honestly, as an ordinary parent, i ask this question, what is the point of wasting time writing to the President in this vein.
    Firstly, it is my opinion and i have often given it in comments on this resource , that tinkering with the system endlessly only serves to perpetuate injustices. Whilst i agree amendments to practice directions such as 25B may be called for, these are not critical. The more critical problem is that if the changes are introduced, they will be ineffective. Professionals will simply flout the new regulations at will as they do many other correct procedures and even when a respondent barrister informs a lower court Judge, it will be ignored and swept under the carpet.

    As per the Government’s ‘vision for change’ which was set out in detail a number of years ago, their is a need to ‘radically reform the children’s social care system’ and to structure reforms around three areas: people and leadership, practice and systems; governance and accountability. There is a need ‘to focus relentlessly on front line practice. We need all services to deliver high quality; governance and accountability.

    So, I am not wishing to poo-pooh the above letter but more interested in suggesting it is amended to have more effect.I propose the following :-

    We are writing to request an amendment to Practice Direction 25 B so that no person may be permitted to REQUEST or ISSUE INSTRUCTIONS for an expert report involving the assessment of any child OR A PARENT unless that person meets minimum standards of professional practice, which we assert are as follows. The expert requesting and instructing must:
    a) be a qualified medical professional e.g the family G.P. involved fully in ongoing child-protection assessments
    b) submit to an external regulatory or supervisory body which requires adherence to a Code of Conduct
    c) meet professional obligations as data controllers
    d) provide clear and accessible formal complaints procedure


    Readers, the purpose of all practice directions are to enable the Court to administer Justice, to seek out the truth. The truth is that very rarely is it that respondents request these expert opinions. In almost every case it is the plaintiffs or applicants ( the Local Authority or the other parent) and the GAL who request them. I know from discussions with a forensic psychologist with long experience of preparing reports for the Family Courts, that when the truth is that G.P. notes and assessments are in favour of parents, additional ,superfluous reports are requested by these parties not usually with good intentions ( such as supporting children and families) but with the intention of achieving their own particular litigation aims. If the resultant report is positive for the parent ,it will be swept under the carpet but in reality, the reports of every human being ,by their very nature , will contain some positives and some negatives. Then the negatives are emphasised and the positives ignored.

    To explore the truth more, we should ask ourselves this question:

    Why did Cain slay Abel ?

    Answer: Because Cain was WRONG and Abel was RIGHT!

    When respondents make submissions to Court and correct misinformation, error , false data and false statements made by their opponents, the only means applicants and GALS have to obtain their aims is to suppress the truth. They KNOW they are wrong. Hence, they unfairly request expert reports for one reason which is to discredit the respondent’s truths. It should be stopped.

    I would like to add that. in my own experience, the experts who actually do the psychological assessments are ethical and produce fair reports to the best of their ability. However the instructions they are given and the ‘expert’ professional statements and opinions sent to them by L.A’s and GAL’s are very,very far from impartial. As a last resort, when these reports are called for , they should be instructed solely by impartial and well-informed G.P’s.

    All comments welcome.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      If you don’t think its a good idea, don’t sign. I think it is a serious problem that unregulated experts are allowed to report and if I can change that, I will.

  2. Angelo Granda

    Of course, I will sign the letter and I will go along with your efforts in any way i can. It would be churlish not to .
    I have suggested an amendment ,that’s all.

  3. Angelo Granda

    I would also suggest that if a G.P. or hospital doctor, consultant etc. involved in a case deems it necessary that a Court should obtain expert medical opinion of some kind ( e.g. a psychological assessment of parents) then that doctor alone should be the one to study the resultant report in order to submit his or her own amended evidence.
    Sw’s and GALS are not impartial ; neither are they ,parents,lawyers and Judges and all of them are unable to understand medical reports to the standard required. In fact,in my experience,some GALS are idiots! One looked through the medical notes of a Mum and reported to the Court that she had attended at her G.P’s surgery many times over the years with alcohol -related illnesses.It was totally untrue! The G.P. was in the habit of asking all his patients about alcohol intake ,smoking etc. in order to help make diagnoses. He would then make a note of it. Just because of those notes , the GAL made her own diagnosis and Mum’s children were removed from her care.In my opinion,that was unacceptable. The G.P. reported no alcohol problems.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      You raise a reasonable point that lawyers and judges are not the best people to constructively criticise expert evidence. This is the paradox. We need the help of experts on certain points – but we lack the skills to challenge them if they get it wrong.

    1. Angelo Granda

      I agree with Dr.Nick that the Family Law system needs to be reformed radically from the top down and that the lawyers involved should receive proper training.

  4. Jennifer Cole

    Jennifer Cole Midwife

    Currently battling something similar with my ex-husband, five years and counting ……

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