Law Column: Problem of unregulated experts causing chaos in family courts must end

Family law is possibly the most sensitive area of legal expertise to be involved in, writes legal expert Jonathan Corbishley.

By Jonathan Corbishley
Wednesday, 20th July 2022, 5:00 pm

Each day, experts the length and breadth of the land make decisions that can alter lives dramatically.

Therefore much soul searching and commitment to the highest values should be a given.

That is why, when we at Derbyshire Family Law see developments in our field that we are uncomfortable about, we feel we must voice them.

Columnist Jonathan Corbishley is a legal expert at Derbyshire Family Law.

In recent weeks, many in our profession, as well as MPs and charities, have been very vocal calling for an urgent inquiry into the use of unregulated psychological experts in the family courts.

In a recent letter sent to the justice secretary, the victims’ commissioner for London, Claire Waxman, and a group of MPs claim there is ample evidence that children and survivors of domestic abuse are being put at risk by the evidence provided by unregulated experts who do not belong to any professional body, and therefore cannot be held to account.

It follows the Observer newspaper printing views from the Association of Clinical Psychologists that experts who are not regulated have suggested inappropriate diagnoses and made recommendations for children to be removed from their mothers based on this.

The letter to Tory minister Dominic Raab MP raises grave concerns about the instruction of unregulated experts in cases where there are allegations of “parental alienation”. This means a child has rejected one parent purely as they have been psychologically manipulated by the other parent.

If “alienation” is found, the child can be removed from that parent immediately and all contact then taken away.

Five MPs signed the letter, highlighting concerns that allegations of parental alienation are being used to fight claims of domestic abuse, and that children’s fears of abuse can be “subverted by experts and used as evidence of alienation”. They conclude it means judges are making child contact and residence arrangements based on unsound advice.

Most of us experienced in family law have seen harrowing cases of domestic abuse and it often seems more difficult for the the victim, rather than the perpetrator. We believe all that can be done to ensure the court system presents a fair chance to give these young people the help they need, away from poor decision making that could have such a negative effect.

There are many academics, lawyers, charity leaders and health workers who have warned the Ministry of Justice of dangers to the public who may innocently hire an unregulated expert witness, leaving no legal redress should harm occur.

English law isn’t perfect but strives to be and we can only hope that issues like this are soon resolved with the right legislation put in place. It is a story we will watch carefully.

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