Recently Family Law Week reported on the case of Dr Ben Harper (archive here), who was severely criticised by a High Court judge. The case was also covered by Suesspicious Minds (archive here). Matthew Hopkins News reveals that the ‘good’ doctor has a history.
In F (A Minor), Re  EWHC 2149 Dr Ben Harper was commissioned to write a psychological report on the mother of children who are the subject of care proceedings. He wrote an extensive, 70 page report and justified his findings in part by quoting the mother.
In the report, a number of passages were enclosed In italicised quotation marks making strident comments describing previous experts as, for example, “liars”. The only problem with this is that these quotes were made up. The judge found them to be, “[…] created by Dr Harper and attributed to the Mother […]” and also, “[…] a manipulation of material which is wholly unacceptable and, at very least, falls far below the standard that any Court is entitled to expect of any expert witness”.
That much could be easily found on Family Law Week … but it is not the first time a judge has looked askance at a report of Dr Ben Harper. I did a case law search and found three public reported cases naming Dr Ben Harper. One was non-contentious – he had carried out a capacity assessment and found a mother had capacity. The other case was A and B v Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council  EWFC 47.
Dr Ben Harper was a lone voice in the case. Social services considered that, whilst the parents were unsuitable carers, a child (C), should be placed with a familial aunt. The children’s independent guardian advocated that the child should be placed with the aunt. The independent social worker considered that the child should be placed with the aunt.
Harper was instructed to assess the family on paper without ever meeting them, by consent. The judge thought this strange and criticised the decision (paragraph 70). The judge said that, “”Paper based” exercises of this kind are neither necessary nor justifiable nor, frankly, affordable”. However he noted it was not the fault of Dr Ben Harper, “[…] He merely did what he was asked and instructed to do”.
Where the judge did criticise Dr Harper was at paragraph 79, “Dr Harper gave one answer that I found rather curious and difficult to accept.” The answer so criticised was Harper’s statement, “I do not see that contact with a father who is unable to meet the psychological needs of a child as a full time carer should be used as a reason for a family placement”.
The judge added, “[…] it would, I believe, be correct and fair to regard Dr Harper as, at least on balance, favouring adoption to a move, and I so treat him”.
So just to summarise for the audience, of the three easily found reported cases involving Dr Harper –
- in one he ‘created’ quotes from a parent
- in another he never met the family but was nonetheless prepared not only to advocate adoption but prepared to do so even when opposing the Director of Social Services, the independent social worker and the guardian
Under the circumstances, legal representatives of parents in child care proceedings may feel they have grounds to object to Dr Ben Harper as an expert witness.