01/04/2021 - UK Expert News: The Association of Clinical Psychologists Expert Witness Guidance During The Pandemic

Expert witness guidance during the pandemic

The Association of Clinical Psychologists has released expert witness guidance during Covid-19 covering:

1. Timing & Prioritising work
2. Communicating with instructing solicitors and Courts
3. Conducting Online/Remote Psychological Assessments
4. Deciding whether/when to resume face-to-face assessments
5. Minimising transmission during face-to-face assessments
6. Acknowledging the limitations of working under different conditions

This guidance is for UK clinical psychologists who work as expert witnesses to the Family Court. Clinical Psychologists are registered and regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and those working as expert witnesses will need to continue to comply with and follow guidance from their regulatory body, “You must not do anything, or allow someone else to do anything, which could put the health or safety of a service user, carer or colleague at unacceptable risk.” The HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2016) state that Registrants must ‘Promote and protect the interests of service users and carers’ and ‘you must encourage and help service users, where appropriate, to maintain their own health and well-being, and support them so they can make informed decisions.’

Clinical Psychologist experts offer expertise in considering the individual and collective psychological profiles of different family members, and their impact on key issues and decisions for determination by the Court, in public or private family court proceedings. Clinical Psychologist experts undertake comprehensive assessments of adults and children that include developmental, psychological, social, relational and neuropsychological issues in complex situations through the application of psychological formulation.

Clinical Psychologist assessments usually include a combination of standardised psychometric tests, in-depth interviewing, observation of behaviour and interactions and review of other professional records (such as social care, education, medical and forensic records) in relation to family members, carers, and significant others. This essential process of triangulation helps to overcome bias and weaknesses of individual methods, and increases the credibility and validity of the analysis and psychological formulation.

These assessment tasks are impacted differently by the need for social distancing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and evolving government guidance. This current guideline for Clinical Psychologists seeks to outline these impacts and possible ways to mitigate them whilst providing assessments of necessary rigour to ensure that, when possible, psychological opinion is available to the courts.

Clinical Psychologist experts will need to take into account their own personal circumstances and the personal circumstances of the family/individuals they are assessing. Court expert witness work is a different context to the ongoing delivery of psychological care, interventions and therapies, for which other guidance may be available. In the role of therapist, a level of creativity to maintain the relationship during this lockdown is appropriate, but in the role of an expert witness we have to constantly be mindful of our duty to the court, the gravity of the decisions being made and the need to ensure that our assessment protocol maintains the highest level of validity. There are also other inherent differences in the context, in terms of the different relationship between psychologist and the subject of the assessment, where there is not an existing established relationship, but instead a need to judge the honesty and openness of the participant. There is also an expectation of appropriate (and often robust) challenge to psychological opinion within the court process, and the psychologist’s practice must be robust enough to face such challenge.