Family Law Library

The Task of the Single Expert Witness: A Recent Decision of the Family Court

To follow is a summary of the ‘pathway’ to be taken by the single expert witness in parenting proceedings.

It provides a useful reminder of the Family Court’s expectations of the single expert witness.

  1. ‘ … The task of a single expert witness is never easy. The opportunities for observation and consultation are rarely if ever entirely satisfactory, because of constraints of time and money. Usually, each party is seeking some corroboration from the single expert witness of his or her position.
  2. Although the expert may give evidence about the “ultimate issue”[67], more frequently the determination of that matter will fall to the Trial Judge. Each party and the Judge may confront the single expert witness with hypothetical sets of facts to see if the expert will or could modify or qualify his or her opinion. Frequently, with a necessarily limited database a single expert witness faces challenges to his or her opinion.
    It is important therefore that single expert witnesses follow the pathway prescribed by authority[68] to prepare and present his or her report.
  3. The pathway accords with common sense. First, the expert must have primary and particular qualifications and experience. For example, expert evidence on the health of children should come not only from a medical doctor but desirably from one specialised in child medicine and moreover someone experienced in such an area of practice and knowledge.
  4. Second, the expert should clearly indicate the information and facts upon which he or she has relied and identify the assumptions upon which he or she proceeded.
  5. To the extent that the expert relies on research to form his or her opinion, it may be wise to identify that research, particularly if it is likely to be controversial and invite cross-examination. An expert becomes an expert through knowledge of and reliance upon, research other than his or her own and the expert’s opinion must necessarily be a synthesis of knowledge in the field of expertise. However, comments such as “research shows” may indicate a lack of specialist acuity.
  6. Third, the pathway of reasoning to the opinion must be discernible. This would seem to be a statement of the obvious but surprisingly from time to time it is overlooked by the single expert witness …’.

As reported in Hoffman & Barone [2014] FamCA 52 (4 February 2014), Deputy Chief Justice Faulks, paragraphs 93-100 (inclusive).