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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Child protection expert witness reports

A study done through the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, published in February 2012, should serve as a valuable guide on some important ways to think about the quality of expert reports for the courts. While this is focused on experiences in the British courts, there is much guidance relevant to multiple jurisdictions on major problems with reports tendered as evidence to guide judges.  These reports can have a powerful effect on proceedings.

This research looked at 126 reports in the family courts. They looked at the crucial issues of the qualifications of the assessors, the extent to which the conclusions could be linked to the data in the report,  the types of methods used for the assessment and their relevance to the questions to be assessed, the type of language used - amongst other issues.

One interesting area that arose is the notion of experts who do not maintain a clinical practice but are essentially running a business as only supplying expert witness reports. The thought here is that the expert has become an expert on being an expert and may, therefore, become less connected to current treatments and interventions.

The report also notes three very concerning trends that can be seen in most jurisdictions:

1. an over reliance on psychometrics;
2. the use of outdated assessment measures; and
3. the use of measures that are not relevant to the questions to be considered by the assessor.

Courts and other consumers of assessment reports should be very concerned about this. In particular, there should be concern with the use of tests that are not relevant. One area that the study did not raise, but which merits consideration, is the use of measures that have not been normed on the population being assessed.

Another disturbing area that the study identifies is experts rendering opinions in areas for which they are not properly qualified.

One further area of comment is for the assessor to provide opinions but also to consider alternatives. Opinions should also be connected to generally accepted theory and other evidence based practice. This should be shown in the report.

This study is worth a review by both those providing expert opinions but also by those who use them. Experts should be aware of this study as it may well serve as an interesting basis for cross examination by a party not served favourably by an expert report.


Ireland, J.l. (2012). Evaluating expert witness psychological reports: Exploring quality. University of Central Lancashire. Downloaded 2012/03/19 from

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