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Family Law

‘Biased’ expert to face trial after long delay

By January 2, 2019November 1st, 2021No Comments

Family Court expert witness faces trial! A family court-appointed psychologist whose report was described by a family court judge as being “coloured by personal animosity” will finally face trial for professional misconduct next June, but there are concerns that it has taken seven years to reach this stage. During that time, the Perth-based psychologist has continued to practice and offer his services as an expert.

According to The Australian:

The parents had been engaged in a tug-of-love in the Family Court of Western Australia over the boy’s care. The mother had read about “psychopathy” on the internet before meeting the psychologist and decided the father fitted the bill. The father had wanted the court to appoint a different single expert witness, but the judge went with the mother’s choice. The mother’s response to the report was immediate. She ended their shared-care arrangement and obtained orders the father was not to see him other than under supervision.

The psychologist was paid about $25,000 for his report and testimony which branded the father “psychopathic”. But three other psychologists involved with the case had disagreed with the negative portrayal. At the conclusion of the case, they even went as far as signing a joint statement voicing their disagreement with the characterisation and rejecting the allegation that the father was “in any way psychopathic”. They wrote that they had observed that the boy’s relationship with the father in the past had been “good, healthy and strong”.

The father had no history of violence, mental illness, or drug or alcohol abuse and until the publication of the report, the boy had been described as having a “generally close and loving relationship” with both parents but when the court’s decision was delivered 11 months later, the judge in the case said there was “no longer any meaningful relationship between the boy and his father”.

The boy now hasn’t seen his dad since 2013 after the Family Court of WA later ordered that the mother be allowed to relocate internationally with the boy. The father blames the boy’s mental health issues, including suicide attempts, on the psychologist report writer’s “incompetence and malevolence”.

He has been vocal about his disgust in the way the matter has been handled by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. He’s quoted as saying:

“An organisation like AHPRA that takes more than seven years to bring a health professional to trial for alleged professional misconduct isn’t fit to be called a regulator. Children’s lives are at stake here. They deserve better than that.”

The father had raised his concerns with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency before the report had even been published but it wasn’t until six years later that the Psychology Board of Australia, which investigates complaints to AHPRA, referred the psychologist to a tribunal on charges of professional misconduct.

That delay, according to AHPRA, was because the investigation was “on hold until court proceedings were finalised”. It is difficult to see how AHPRA could have circumvented the issue of having to wait til proceedings were finalised.

The case has raised again the thorny issue of the perceived lack of governance of court-appointed experts, given their influence on the outcome of parenting matters.

As we mentioned in a recent blog, the ALRC has put forward the proposal that Australia needs a national accreditation system for family report writers (Family Court expert witness), which hopefully would go a long way towards addressing these kinds of concerns.

Source: The Australian

Do you need help with a family law matter, or with a Family Court expert witness? At Alliance Legal Services, we have expertise in instructing expert witnesses and we know how to brief them to make sure the right evidence comes before the court. Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal on (02) 6223 2400 to discuss how we can help you.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.

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