Now is the time to consider how proposed cuts to legal aid might affect family law in England and Wales. Government spending on expert witness reports costs over 50 million a year, which is why ministers want to ensure that only qualified and recognised professionals are used.
According to the Ministry of Justice there are too many expert witnesses who are being paid for evidence that is of little value to the courts. This is why they have opened a consultation on how expert witnesses are used and what can be done to bring the costs down. Justice minister Lord McNally has said that unacceptable delays are being experienced by families and children because of expert evidence that is not of a sufficiently high quality.
Improved standards to ensure highest quality of evidence
Lord McNally wants to implement standards that allow only the best-quality evidence in court. He believes that this will lead to more robust proceedings and resolutions being reached at a faster pace. It is felt that there is a lot of evidence being presented at the moment that only serves to waste time, adding minimal value to help judges reach decisions. The independent family justice review identified poor-quality evidence from experts that was presented in proceedings where children were involved.
The new standards being drafted by the Family Justice Council’s Experts Working Group are aimed at improving the use of witnesses. Being involved in the family court house can be emotional and distressing and it is in the interests all parties that cases proceed swiftly. To understand the process fully and identify what is involved in family law cases, it is a good idea to consult legal experts either in person or online. A firm of online solicitors can provide useful information on what to expect from the process.
The Family Justice Council believes the following points are essential to improve the family courts:
Improving the quality and supply of expert evidence to improve outcomes for children.
Ensuring those who select expert witnesses are given proper guidance.
Promoting a more intelligent and effective way of using expert evidence.
The figures behind the funds for legal aid
According to Ministry of Justice figures, legal aid funds totalling $52 million were spent on reports from experts between October 2010 to October 2011. Reviewing the cases for that year, they found that in almost 90% of care cases experts are widely used. In these cases where experts are relied on, there are almost always four different opinions used. Seven or more expert reports were used in almost one in ten cases. This provides a very interesting insight into what a lot of legal aid money is being spent on and how it is being used in the family courts.
A firm of solicitors with strong family law experience is a good starting point for anybody requiring professional legal advice in this area. Dutton Gregory Solicitors are in a good position to offer family law advice and offer insights into what to expect from the family courts.
Julia Davis writes regularly on legal affairs for a range of website and blogs. Her research sources for this article on family law include Dutton Gregory Solicitors and the Ministry of Justice.