A judge who investigated the reasons behind a chronic shortage of medical experts in the family justice system hopes the days when an expert witness had to trek miles to attend court in person are now over.
A working group led by Mr Justice David Williams found that many health professionals they spoke to were concerned as to how they could dovetail a busy NHS practice with perceived inflexibilities of the court system. The group said remote court attendance should become the default unless personal attendance was necessary.
With expert witnesses giving evidence remotely during the pandemic, Mr Justice Williams told family law group Resolution’s annual conference today that he hoped this would become a permanent change. ‘I hope the days when experts are trekking down from Newcastle to the Royal Courts of Justice, or from Liverpool to Taunton, or Kent up to Preston, are now a thing of the past. [Nearly all] experts want to give evidence remotely. They give evidence from their consulting rooms. That I hope will stay,' he said.
A Covid recovery group led by Lord Justice Baker is likely to be ‘urged in strong terms’ to make remote attendance by experts permanent, Mr Justice Williams added.
The group also recommended that when a hearing has concluded, the lead solicitor should send a copy of the judgment, or a summary if no written judgment or transcript is obtained, to the expert.
Mr Justice Williams told the conference: ‘I find it frustrating where I’m involved in a family’s life at the most intense period of their life and made decisions or contribute to the decision-making process and we never know what happened to them. Sometimes they come back to us a few years later but there are so many cases where we do not know what the outcome is after they leave the court process.
‘Sometimes I sit there wondering “What happened to baby X, child Y or adult Z?” five-10 years’ down the line. Experts will wonder “What happened in that case I reported on?” I have a note to myself now [that] when I provide a written judgment I ask my clerk to ask the parties to make sure the judgment is provided to the experts.’