Ensuring expert integrity
To instruct the right expert witness psychologist, there are checks that should carried out to ensure they are suitably qualified for the task. Choosing the right psychologist can be tricky. Professor Jane Ireland’s 2012 research – which claimed many expert witnesses were unqualified – has now been discredited. However, as celebrity psychologist Fergus Heffernan proved earlier this year, there are still charlatans out there.
Whilst most experts are qualified, finding the right expert witness psychologist for specific cases can be complex. Unconfined issues are particularly common in family matters. These cases may involve an elaborate interplay between many social and psychological problems – including mental health, personality or substance misuse. Finding a specialist in each of these areas can be challenging to say the least.
Anyone can call themselves a ‘psychologist’, which is not a protected title. This is different from a Chartered Psychologist who must have completed British Psychological Society registered education and training of at least six years. Experts in a particular field, such as Clinical Psychologist, Counselling Psychologist or Forensic Psychologist will additionally need to be registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC). Whilst the training routes for each discipline within psychology is different, there are often broad areas of overlap between clinical, counselling, forensic and educational psychologists and these titles will not clearly indicate expertise in a particular area.
What should you be looking for in an expert witness?
Chartered status alone does not necessarily make a good expert witness psychologist. Not only do they need expertise in specialist areas but need a wealth of experience in making the fine diagnostic judgements in each case. When your preferred expert witness psychologist is booked up beyond your case deadlines, follow these tips to make the right choice:
- A quick phone call to discuss the case can often confirm that the expert has the right experience but don’t be afraid to ask if they have dealt with this type of case before.
- Ask for references or ask to speak to the lead solicitor in the expert’s last instruction.
- Check your expert’s CV for specialist training and experience that they have practised in a field relating to each area of concern.
- Ensure that they are receiving ongoing professional development, supervision and training in each area.
- Check that they are registered with the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC)
- Ask if your expert has undergone any expert witness training either through the BPS or Bond Salon programmes.
The role of expert witness agencies
Finding an expert witness psychologist has become increasingly easy with the proliferation of expert witness agencies. Any reputable agency will have a good understanding of the qualifications and experience of each of its associates. Even so, not all agencies clearly vet their expert’s registration, qualifications and experience. Most agencies will not ensure an expert meets their requirements of ongoing professional development and supervision. It is always worth asking what checks an agency uses to ensure that all their experts are qualified.
Whilst there can be no overall guarantee how an expert will perform in each case, asking a few questions about the expert and the agency will often lead to better guarantees. Certainly, describing the issues in more depth than “Can you assess two parents in Basingstoke?” will often lead to an expert more appropriate for the specific case.
Dr Andrew Derry
Should you need help to instruct the right expert witness psychologist for your case, contact us here.