The author of a damning study funded by the Family Justice Council on the quality of expert witnesses in the family courts is facing a disciplinary hearing over the conduct and conclusions of her research.
Professor Jane Ireland (pictured), a forensic psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire, is accused of reaching conclusions that were not justified by the data and threatening fellow psychologists with legal action if they did not withdraw complaints about her research.
The report, ‘Evaluating Expert Witness Psychological Reports: Exploring Quality’ was highly influential when it was published in 2012.
It found that two-thirds of expert witnesses in family courts were ‘poor’ and that one-fifth of the authors of reports had no proper qualifications. It also suggested that the absence of clinical practice among expert witnesses ‘poses challenges for the courts’.
The conduct and competence committee of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has begun a disciplinary hearing on Ireland in Preston, centring on that report.
An eight-point charge sheet includes allegations that the headline conclusion that 'one-fifth of experts are not qualified’ was not supported by the data presented in the report; and that Ireland ‘presented unsubstantial conclusions from the report for publication in a national newspaper on 13 March 2012 and on a national television news programme’.
It is also alleged that Ireland failed to declare a conflict of interest and threatened her fellow psychologists with legal action if they did not withdraw complaints.
She is also alleged to have used 126 expert reports from 180 court bundles without seeking the consent of authors or subjects, and allegedly did not properly redact the reports used – meaning those producing the research had access to sensitive and personal information about vulnerable adults and children.
The final allegation is that these charges constitute misconduct and/or a lack of competence, impairing her fitness to practise.
The disciplinary hearing will run until 8 June.
The FJC said it was not appropriate to comment on the allegations while the hearing is taking place and before it reaches a conclusion. The University of Central Lancashire also declined to comment.
Professor Ireland's legal representative said it would not be appropriate to make any comment while the hearing is ongoing.