Thursday 4 January 2018

Evaluating Expert Witness Psychological Reports: Exploring Quality

Evaluating Expert Witness Psychological Reports: Exploring Quality

Author: Professor Jane L. Ireland, PhD, Chartered Psychologist, Forensic Psychologist, University of Central Lancashire and Ashworth Research Centre, Mersey Care NHS Trust and Coastal Child and Adolescent Treatment Service (CCATS). 

Click here for the research

The current research represents a preliminary study applying guidance given in the Civil Procedure Rules Practice Direction (UK) to assess the quality of expert psychological assessments presented in Family Courts. It also aims to draw upon admissibility criteria for expert evidence which has been developed in other jurisdictions, but is likely to have increasing influence in the UK, such as the US developed Daubert criteria. The current study examined 126 expert psychological reports submitted in family court proceedings. They covered both adult and child assessments and were obtained from three courts. There were four independent raters. Using a largely qualitative approach, the study indicated concerns regarding both the qualification of a small section of experts and regarding the quality of the reports produced. Over three-quarters of experts were qualified, of which over three quarters clinical psychologists, around a tenth educational psychologists, and a tenth forensic psychologists1 . Each report was rated with regards to its consistency with the expected content of expert reports as indicated by the Civil Procedure Rules (2005, 2010), the extent to which the psychometrics used fulfilled recognised rules for the admissibility of expert evidence (i.e. Daubert criteria2 ), coupled with an overall assessment of the quality of the report with regards to process. Results indicated wide variability in report quality with evidence of unqualified experts being instructed to provide psychological opinion. One fifth of instructed psychologists were not deemed qualified on the basis of their submitted Curriculum Vitae, even on the most basic of applied criteria. Only around one tenth of instructed experts maintained clinical practice external to the provision of expert witness work. Two thirds of the reports reviewed were rated as „poor‟ or „very poor‟, with one third between good and excellent. This preliminary study concludes with suggestions for ensuring good quality reports are produced for use by courts in family proceedings and how the instruction of appropriate experts can be enhanced.

Update: Several complaints were made against Professor Jane Ireland to the Health Care Professions Council after her report was written. None of the complaints were upheld. 

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