An Expert is ‘a person who provides expert evidence for use in proceedings.’ Experts can include independent social workers, consultant psychologists, consultant psychiatrists, consultant paediatricians as well as others from specialist medical backgrounds.
It is the duty of Experts to help the court on matters within their expertise and they are bound by duties set out within Practice Direction 25B (The Duties of an Expert, the Expert’s Report and Arrangements for an Expert to attend Court). The Expert’s duty to the court overrides any obligation to the person from whom Experts have received instructions or by whom they are paid.
In order to secure an Expert to a case, the court’s permission is required. This entails the applicant identifying an Expert and applying to the court for permission to instruct that Expert. If permission is granted, then the Expert evidence must be given in a written report unless the court directs otherwise. The court will not direct an Expert to attend a hearing unless it is necessary to do so in the interests of justice.
When there is a ‘Single Joint Expert’ (meaning that the Expert is instructed by two or more of the parties involved), the instructions for that Expert are to be contained in an agreed letter of instruction, unless otherwise directed by the court. The court may give direction as to the payment of the Expert’s fees and expenses and the inspection, examination or assessment to be completed.
In children proceedings, the court’s permission is also required for a child to be medically or psychiatrically examined by an instructed Expert.
The court can also direct a discussion between the Experts (if more than one) to (a) identify and discuss the Expert issues in the case and (b) where possible, reach an agreed opinion on those issues. A statement of the agreed and/or disagreed issues can then be filed with the court.
There are also specific guidelines applicable to parents within children proceedings who have learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Those assisting parents who have such difficulties must pay regard to Practice Direction 15B (Adults Who May Be Protected Parties and Children Who May Become Protected Parties in Family Proceedings) which gives specific guidance relating to proceedings. This is particularly important where an adult party may not have legal capacity to instruct an Expert.