Family report writers are independent third parties who provide expert evidence to the court. Their knowledge, experience and skill in assessing family environments and preparing reports are extremely valuable to the Court’s decision making. However, as in all professions, some experts act unethically and breach their professional obligations. As a result, the integrity of their work – and the quality of their recommendations – may be called into question.
This was the case in McElhinney & McElhinney, where the psychologist who prepared the family report was disqualified from practice, because they formed a personal relationship with a former client. While both parents in the dispute agreed the report writer should be discharged, the father wanted another psychologist from the same practice to continue the report. The mother disagreed, arguing a new report should be written.
The Court held that the disqualified psychologist’s report was inadmissible and a new one should be prepared, because the fact the psychologist was suspended raises a reasonable apprehension to the integrity of their decision making and opinions. Thus, if another psychologist from the same practice were to complete this report, at least part of the report would still be based on the disqualified psychologist’s opinions.
However, contrast this decision to Behrendt & Cadenet (No. 2), where a father sought to dismiss a family report writer because he had lost confidence in the writer’s ability to form an opinion exclusively based on evidence. Despite this, the father failed to substantiate his claim that the report writer’s opinion was compromised in any way. Instead, the court in this case considered Bookhurst & Bookhurst, which held that an expert will not be disqualified just because one party believes the evidence is at odds with his/her version of logical reasoning.
Therefore, a parent’s mere belief or assumption that the family report writer’s opinion may be compromised is not sufficient enough to discharge them from their duty. However, where a report writer has been suspended for professional misconduct due to their unethical conduct, this is grounds to discharge them, and order a new report to be prepared by a new expert.
Therefore, if you have evidence your report writer has acted unethically, or you believe the integrity of the report has been, or will, be compromised, you should seek legal advice immediately.
Our specialist Family Law Team at Sanicki Lawyers has the necessary expertise to help you prepare this application and present your case. Further, if the other party to your case is trying to discharge your expert witness, but you do not believe the expert has done anything wrong, you should seek legal advice to present your position to the court.
Contact Stephanie Hope, Senior Associate Family Lawyer and Head of Family Law at Sanicki Lawyers for legal advice and representation today, by calling 03 9510 8999, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.