UK Family Law Reform

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New rules reducing the number of expert witness required in family courts came into force yesterday (January 31).

The new rules will allow judges to speed up family cases by summoning fewer expert witnesses such as psychologists and doctors. Previously these had been summoned if they were “reasonably required”, but now judges will only allow the inclusion of their evidence in cases where they deem it “necessary”.

The courts will now be required to consider, amongst other factors, “the impact on the timetable and conduct of the proceedings and the cost of the expert evidence”.

The new guidance was drawn up by a committee of judges and lawyers. It is based on the recommendations of the Family Justice Review published in 2011.

Part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules has been updated with the new requirements.

Sir James Munby is President of the Family Division stressed that all relevant evidence would still be presented in court.

“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.”

He added:

“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.”

The unified ‘Single Family Court’ was proposed by Mr Justice Ryder in his Judicial proposals for the modernisation of family justice, published last year.

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