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Generally, it is a matter for the Courts whether a witness may be classified as an expert or not. In practice an expert is ‘a person with either professional or technical knowledge, whose opinion will be of value’. Expertise may be acquired in a wide variety of contexts, not necessarily academic ones, or wholly in circumstances of formal practice. On that basis ‘experts’ don’t necessarily have to be currently practicing in the discipline to which they profess to be an expert. Nor do they necessarily need to be registered to an appropriate professional body. Of course both points may give credence to a person’s claim to be an ‘expert’.


However, as with almost everything, in the law, there are grey areas, and the greyer the area, the more difficult the call.

For example, at one extreme you could have a newly-qualified practitioner with little or no practical experience, and at the other you could have someone who lacks formal qualifications, but has been in practice for a quarter of a century.


Recently, the issue of ‘unregistered psychologists’ has come before the Family Courts. The problem is best explained by focusing on what the law allows people to call themselves. Solicitors, for example, cannot refer to themselves as such, unless qualified and admitted to the Roll. Similar requirements apply to barristers, medical doctors, miliary officers and psychiatrists. However, there are no such restrictions in relation to ‘psychologists’, who may officially refer to themselves as such whether they are essentially researchers and academics as opposed to practitioners with clinical competencies. Psychologists don’t have to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), or the British Psychological Society, to practice.


Recent guidance given to Family Court Judges requires them to give a judgement which clearly gives reasons as to why an unregulated psychologist has been appointed as an expert. The rationale being that litigants need to be protected from inadequately trained professionals. At the end of the day, it may also result in the public having greater confidence in the family justice system, and of decisions made based upon the opinions of non-regulated psychologists.

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