Before you choose an expert, it is always a good idea to talk to them or at least have a look at some you tube videos. You, or your lawyer, will want someone who “makes a good witness”. What this means is that the expert, as well as being knowledgeable, must also be likeable, and experienced in the witness box. So you want someone who knows how to follow the judge’s pen, and not speak to quickly. You want someone who is not boring. And you want someone that does not speak ‘psycho-babble’ – that is, the point of an expert is to convince, not to show off. See the excellent contribution of Dr Spooner in re B 2017.
An expert can make all the difference – the difference between rescuing your child, and leaving her/him in the hands of an abuser. Experts can be invaluable – but In STOPPA’s view there are Pros and Cons…
- There are very few of them about, so not much choice;
- At £4,000 – £8,000 for a report, they are expensive. Given point (i) and the law of supply and demand, fees will presumably remain high;
- The involvement of experts causes more delay – our enemy (although that delay may well be worth it in the longer term);
- And, in Re U (Serious Injury: Standard of Proof): Re B  2 FLR 263, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P said that
´The court must always be on guard against the over-dogmatic expert, the expert whose reputation or amour propre is at stake, or the expert who has developed a scientific prejudice.´
- The main reason: Experts, like CAFCASS, can be seen to usurp the role of the judge, as some judges have intimated. Yes, experts can guide the judge, but in STOPPA’s estimation, most judges do not need too much guidance. As long as a judge is willing to judge, as long as you have a strong, robust judge, the involvement of an expert can be an unnecessary expense. A judge worth his or her salt can spot PA without significant difficulty (but see comment iv) under ‘pros’ below). They see it all day, every day in family courts up and down the land;
- Experts (should) know what they are doing – they should specialise – take a look at our pathology page to see what to ask them about;
- STOPPA would advocate using a specialist in PA – that is, people with a PhD in something – psychology or psychiatry, or someone with experience in legal cases. Some counsellors have done only a couple of courses here and there and may do more harm than good. Again, though, use our pathology page to see what questions you should be asking. Having said that, paper qualifications aren’t everything, and a good counsellor that specialises can be a better ally than a bad doctor who does not;
- Experts are sometimes needed to counteract CAFCASS reports. CAFCASS officers are not psychiatrists or psychologists, and most have not even taken a course on PA. An appropriately qualified and experienced/specialised expert should be able to counteract CAFCASS conclusions that are lazy, ignorant or inexpert.
- It is worth noting the words of Bellamy J in S (A Child Transfer of Residence) 
“The relatively small number of cases of alienation inevitably means that not every child care professional will have experience of dealing with a case involving an alienated child. In this case, for example, in her final statement Mrs K [the social worker] very frankly conceded that ´despite my 21 years of experience in Social care, high conflict cases and child protection, prior to this case, I did not have any previous experience in alienation´. In making that point I do not in any way seek to undermine the sterling work she has undertaken in this case. Her dedication and commitment have been exemplary. However, I am bound to say that, for my part, I am in no doubt that in determining any high conflict case involving an alienated child it is essential that the court has the benefit of professional evidence from an expert who has personal experience of working with alienated children.”
- Go to our links page for more info. STOPPA does not recommend experts and has no ties or affiliations with any expert.