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Tougher test for family expert witnesses

Evidence now must be deemed ‘necessary’

4 February 2013

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Judges ruling in family court proceedings can limit the number of expert witnesses who give evidence, under new rules which came into force on Thursday 31 January.

Evidence will now only be allowed if deemed “necessary”. Previously, evidence from experts including psychologists and doctors was permitted if it was “reasonably required”.

Lord Justice Munby, president of the Family Division, said: “There is no question of families being denied the chance to call evidence they need to support their case or being denied a fair hearing.

“But the new test gives judges more control over expert evidence in family proceedings. The rule change gives family judges the means to make robust case management decisions to make sure the expert evidence is focused and relevant.”

Key changes include a list of factors that the court must note when deciding whether to give permission, including the impact on the timetable and the cost of the expert evidence.

The Family Justice Review recommended in November 2011 that judges be given clearer powers to control expert assessments. It also recommended that to be heard in court experts’ views “should be essential for disposal of the case”.

Munby LJ added: “This change underlines the key role of the court in determining what expert evidence it requires to help it reach the decisions in a case.

“This change is a vital component of the active judicial case management that will be needed to prepare the ground for the new Single Family Court, due to come into being in April 2014.”

More on this in April's Private Client Adviser.

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Family