MPs must decide rules on ‘psychologists’ giving opinion in family courts – judge

Parliament must decide whether psychologists giving expert evidence in family court cases should be subjected to a “tighter” regulatory regime, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales has said.

Sir Andrew McFarlane said the “generic” label “psychologist” is “not protected” and may be used by “any individual, whether registered or not”.

He said the “open-house nature of the term ‘psychologist’ is unhelpful and potentially confusing” but he said Parliament must ultimately decide whether a “tighter regime” should be imposed.

Sir Andrew, the president of the Family Division of the High Court, outlined his thoughts in a written ruling on a case in which a woman and her ex-partner were involved in a dispute centred on the care of their children.

The woman complained that a “psychologist” who said she was alienating her children from their father was “not an appropriately qualified expert”.

She appealed after a judge who oversaw family court hearings in Peterborough refused to order a re-hearing of her case.

Sir Andrew, who dismissed her appeal at a hearing in December, has analysed the role of psychologists giving expert evidence in a written ruling on the case published online.

He said the question of whether an expert is “qualified to give expert evidence” is generally a matter for judges overseeing individual cases.

“Certain categories of psychologist, for example ‘clinical psychologist’, have a ‘protected title’, which may only be used by those who are validly registered,” he said.

“The generic label ‘psychologist’ is not protected and may be used by any individual, whether registered or not.

“A report by an unregistered person calling themselves a psychologist may be called a ‘psychological report’.

“From the perspective of the court, and it may be from a wider public perspective, the open-house nature of the term ‘psychologist’ is unhelpful and potentially confusing.”

He added: “It is, however, a matter for the psychological profession and, ultimately, Parliament, whether a tighter regime should be imposed.”

Psychologist guidance
Melanie Gill leaves the Royal Courts of Justice in London after a court hearing last year (PA)

The woman who mounted the appeal had raised concern about psychologist Melanie Gill

A judge who oversaw earlier stages of the litigation in Peterborough explained in a ruling how the children at the centre of the case had lived with their mother after their parents separated.

Judge Lindsay Davies said another judge had initially found there had been “coercive and controlling behaviour on the part of the father”.

But Judge Davies subsequently ruled that the children should move from their mother’s care and live with their father after accepting Ms Gill’s “conclusion about alienation”.

Ms Gill argued that she was an “expert” and raised concern about a “witch-hunt”.

Sir Andrew said the children at the centre of the case could not be identified in media reports of the litigation.