Psychologist under attack in family court fight fears for her career, judge told

A barrister representing Melanie Gill on Wednesday told an appeal hearing at the High Court in London that there was a ‘whiff of a witch-hunt’

Brian Farmer
Wednesday 26 October 2022 12:41 BST
President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane (PA)
President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane (PA) (PA Media)

A psychologist criticised by a woman embroiled in a family court fight over her two children thinks her career is “on the line”, a senior judge has been told.

Melanie Gill concluded that the woman was alienating her children from their father. But the woman has now complained that Ms Gill is “not an appropriately qualified expert”.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the Family Division of the High Court and the most senior family court judge in England, is overseeing an appeal by the woman at a public High Court hearing in London.

At the start of the hearing on Wednesday, the judge said that there was a “big issue” in the appeal – a question about what guidance he should give on the instruction of experts in family court cases.

A barrister representing Ms Gill told Sir Andrew that his client’s career was “on the line”.

Andrew Bagchi KC said the was a “whiff of a witch-hunt”.

“Her career is on the line,” Mr Bagchi told Sir Andrew.

“She is a professional expert witness in family cases.

“If she is suddenly not regarded as an expert witness then that is the end of her career.”

“Ms Gill has been targeted in other litigation by litigants who have lost and they want to complain about that…There is something of a feeling of a witch-hunt about this”

Andrew Bagchi KC

Mr Bagchi added: “Ms Gill has been targeted in other litigation by litigants who have lost and they want to complain about that…

“There is something of a feeling of a witch-hunt about this.”

He went on: “There is a whiff of a witch-hunt.”

The woman has appealed after Judge Lindsay Davies, who oversaw family court hearings in Peterborough, refused to order a re-hearing of the case.

Judge Davies said, in a ruling, that the children at the centre of the case had lived with their mother after their parents separated.

She 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”.

Judge Davies made no criticism of Ms Gill, when dismissing the woman’s application for a further hearing, but suggested that guidance on experts from a judicial head would help judges.

A High Court judge, who oversaw a preliminary appeal hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London recently, concluded that the woman had an arguable case and said Sir Andrew should oversee an appeal hearing and consider issues relating to the regulation of experts.

Mr Justice Peel, who ruled that children involved could not be identified in media reports of the case, said it was in the public interest for Sir Andrew to consider the “appropriateness, or otherwise, of instructing unregulated psychologists as experts in family proceedings concerning children, and in particular in cases where parental alienation may arise”.

He also said Sir Andrew should consider whether, in relation to the woman’s case, it had been “appropriate to instruct Ms Gill” in circumstances where “she has no recognised substantial post-graduate qualifications”, was not “registered as a practitioner psychologist”, was not “subject to professional regulation”, and, the “opinion of the President of the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK” was that “she should not be acting as an expert in court proceedings”.

Mr Justice Peel outlined the terms of reference for the appeal hearing – and gave detail about Ms Gill – in a written case order.

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