New measures have been introduced to ensure child care cases are dealt with more quickly and effectively in family courts. This is so children and families are spared unnecessary delays and the cost to taxpayers is reduced.
Under today's changes, the family courts will now be required to:
Restrict expert evidence to that which is only necessary to resolve the case;
Take account of specified factors before agreeing to expert witnesses reports, currently, no factors are specified. In care cases, these include the impact on the welfare of the child; the impact on the timetable for proceedings and whether the evidence which is needed is available from another source such as the local authority; and
To approve the questions that are to be put to the expert to ensure they are focused on the determinative issues for the court.
Until now multiple reports have been commissioned in many cases which can lead to delays of several weeks. The reports are typically commissioned from expert witnesses, for example doctors or specialist psychologists.
Family Justice Minister Lord McNally said:
'We are taking action to tackle the unacceptable delays in our family courts.
'The number of expert reports being commissioned at the moment is far beyond what is actually needed to make a considered decision - and is causing delays which can ultimately harm children.
'The new rules mean expert evidence will only be used where necessary and reports will be commissioned more sensibly and sparingly.'
Today's changes are the latest steps in the Government's commitment to ensuring family cases are dealt with within 26 weeks, following a recommendation by the Family Justice Review conducted by David Norgrove.