Judgment has recently been given by the High Court in the case of Re Z, Y, Z (Children) v A Local Authority. The case raises a number of broad issues relating both to the circumstances in which expert witnesses in family proceedings should be identified and transparency in family justice generally.
The issue before the High Court arose in care proceedings before the county court. The parents of the children concerned argued that the expert involved in the case made numerous false accusations of the parents, and as such their reputation suffered as the father had been classified as a danger to children. A county court judge had criticised the expert’s input (it is to be noted that the High Court did not agree with this criticism in principle).
A journalist applied for permission to name the expert outside of the court proceedings.
The High Court allowed the disclosure. A redacted copy of the report (which protected the identity of the family members involved in the case) was allowed to be reported. It is to be noted that the treating clinicians and GP, who were named in the relevant report, did not have their names redacted as it was not felt that this would result in the children concerned being identified.
The court commented that it was important that there was an informed debate in these matters. In the same way that the Court of Appeal would rightly be critical of a judge who lacks impartially or whose work is not properly informed, the courts should be similarly critical of any media source which proceeds from a “tendentious, biased or ill-informed standpoint, or which has a particular agenda”. The court did state that there would be cases where anonymity of the expert would be required.
The court did state that there would be cases where anonymity of the expert would be required. However, this case underlines the increasing move towards transparency in the family courts. This goes beyond reports or witness evidence provided by you as a professional being subject to disclosure beyond proceedings but also that your third party involvement in a matter may be disclosed within a report that is allowed to be distributed beyond the proceedings. Further updates are expected when the anticipated Family Justice Review is published later this year.