A new certification scheme for expert witnesses inside British civil courts launched by the Expert Witness Institute (EWI) this month will be extended to include family courts, Simon Berney-Edwards, EWI’s Executive Manager told Researching Reform today.
The scheme, which took about 5 years to develop, has been produced with the Judicial Institute at University College London and aims to create a gold standard for expert witnesses inside the court system.
Simon Berney-Edwards said he was excited about the scheme’s launch.
“The scheme is the first of its kind. We won’t just be testing for competency, the accreditation process will also look at how expert witnesses deliver in court settings.”
The need for more robust processes to vet expert witnesses came to a head last week after the media reported on a Crown Prosecution Service Trial which collapsed after the expert witness in the case was found not to have any qualifications.
Concerns over expert witnesses inside the family courts were raised by researchers and the media as early as 2012, when it was shown that more than 20% of psychologists acting as expert witnesses inside the family courts did not have the necessary qualifications.
Further concerns were raised when a loophole was discovered in 2016, allowing inappropriate professionals to act as expert witnesses while being able to avoid prosecution for negligent advice.
The scheme will initially cover just the civil courts in England and Wales. However, Simon Berney-Edwards told Researching Reform that the EWI planned to extend the accreditation process to family courts and criminal courts.
Two pilot tests were carried out at UCL’s Judicial Institute before the scheme was launched, both carried out by fellows at EWI.
Simon Berney-Edwards explained the certification process to Researching Reform.
The process is made up of three rounds which require potential expert witnesses to submit in-depth information about their qualifications and experience. If the initial submission is accepted, applicants then have to undergo a compliance test. Successful candidates are then placed on a wait list and assessed in a mock court setting.
The first round invites applicants to submit their CV; demonstrate their experience; show proof of membership to a professional body so that the EWI can assess the applicant’s good standing; provide two to three references from instructing parties such as barristers or solicitors; submit proof that they have indemnity insurance; and send in an anonymised report they’ve used in proceedings within the last three years.
The second round requires successful applicants in round one to complete an online survey. Civil court applicants will have to take a compliance test which has been produced in line with CPR 35, the civil courts’ procedure rules on experts and assessors.
Simon told Researching Reform that the second round would be modified to ensure that the compliance test met with family court requirements once the extended accreditation process for the family justice system was developed.
Applicants who make it through to the third and last round will face a series of robust examinations. Finalists will be placed on a wait list and paired with one or two experts with similar experience. Experts who have been paired with the applicant will review the application and write up a report on their findings.
Simon Berney-Edwards explained that the purpose of having two experts was so that one expert looked at the submission through the lens of the claimant and another expert viewed the submission as the respondent when assessing the applicant’s report submitted in the first round.
The experts will then meet to discuss the application and their report on the applicant’s submission. The meeting itself will be viewed in process by third parties. Applicants will then take part in a mock trial which will be held at UCL’s Judicial Institute to see the applicant in practice.
“This final round is the meat of the process, this is what we consider to be the most robust aspect of the accreditation scheme,” Berney-Edwards explained.
The scheme is a hugely important one and we are very excited that it will be rolled out to the family courts in the future. Many thanks to Simon for allowing us to speak with him about the scheme.