UK – Expert opinions in family courts must be open to objective scrutiny

Up on Ration Shed – Egroup and BLOG – with thanks to our Steve Bayliss


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September 28, 2009


Sarah Harman: Analysis


After decades of obsessive secrecy, supposedly to protect the interests of vulnerable children, the family courts will be required to open their doors a few centimetres wider as the Minister of Justice builds on rules introduced earlier this year that allowed some degree of media access but limited rights for them to report their observations.

More steps towards transparency potentially will mean witnesses, experts and childcare practitioners being identified and wider access being given to court documents.

Miscarriages of justice that undoubtedly occur, and can lead either to a child losing his family and ending up in long-term care or leave a child at risk with abusive parents, usually arise from courts relying on dubious expert evidence. The science that medical experts rely on when trying to decide between accident or wilful abuse where a child has a serious head injury or an unexplained fracture is not based on sound evidence. But the courts often treat it as though it is.

Experts who claim to be able to advise the courts with certainty in such difficult situations need to be named, and the opinions in their reports open to objective scrutiny. There needs to be dissemination of information and far more research to ensure that the courts are not misled. Access to court reports and naming of experts will help this process.


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