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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

'Significant concerns' as woman may have been exploited in complex care case, Judge

Written by The Press Association

A vulnerable woman embroiled in a family court fight over the future of her eight-year-old son may have been exploited by a psychologist, a judge has said.

Dr Ludwig F Lowenstein could be in breach of professional codes of conduct, said Judge Mary Lazarus.

The judge has raised concerns in a written ruling on the case following a private family court hearing in Chatham, Kent. She said Dr Lowenstein, who was based at Southern England Psychological Services in Eastleigh, Hampshire, had also been criticised by another judge in another court.

Judge Lazarus said the woman and her son could not be identified.

Dr Lowenstein today refuted Judge Lazarus's criticism. He said he had not exploited the woman but had been trying to help.

Judge Lazarus said the boy had "complex needs" and suffered from autism. The woman also had "emotional and personality needs" - and a "pattern of emotional and physical and developmental neglect" had developed.

There had been a "serious incident of lack of supervision" in the summer of 2013.

Judge Lazarus said the boy had been placed into the care of Kent County Council in late 2013 - and was in a foster placement. She said social services bosses and the woman were now in dispute over the boy's future.

Social services bosses wanted him to be placed for adoption - but the woman wanted him returned to her care.

The judge said she had yet to make decisions on that dispute.

Judge Lazarus said earlier this year a social worker had carried out a parenting assessment on the woman and her partner. The assessment had not recommended the boy's return to his mother's care and had raised "on-going concerns".

A lawyer then suggested the woman might get a further report from "another expert" - and she had approached Dr Lowenstein.

Judge Lazarus said Dr Lowenstein had "offered to do a court report" for the woman and her partner. The judge said her concerns centred on that report.

Dr Lowenstein had described it as a "psychodiagnostic report" on the woman and had charged her £550 for it.

The judge said the report had been produced without any permission from a judge and was not "admissible".

She said it contained "inconsistencies and internal contradiction", and added there was an "obvious lack of rigorous analysis".

"There are a number of concerns ... from what he calls his 'psychodiagnostic report'," said Judge Lazarus.

"He purported to carry out a 'court report' without being granted permission to see nor having sight of any of the previous court papers, without the required process of permission from a court."

The judge added: "Experts should not accept instructions unless explicitly informed that the court has given them its permission and of the terms set out in the court order permitting their instruction."

And she went on: "He did this when he either ought to have known or knows very well, given the claims he makes in relation to his expertise, his experience, his qualifications and his apparent provision of court reports, that there was a very grave risk that such a report, prepared in this way, would be wholly inappropriate for the purposes of court proceedings and would therefore risk not being admissible within those proceedings and/or of having very little weight that could be sensibly attached to it."

She spelled out a number of concerns about the content of the report.

"It is ... a report that within its own content betrays inconsistencies and internal contradiction, and an obvious lack of rigorous analysis," said the judge.

"Additionally, Dr Lowenstein appears to be primarily an educational and general psychologist as revealed by a close reading of his qualifications, posts and experience."

She added: "The court would be most unlikely to accept that he would be the appropriate expert to consider mother's complex personality issues."

And she went on: "I find this report, and the mode by which it has been suggested to the mother and has come about, to be highly unsatisfactory, likely to be in breach of professional codes of conduct, certainly lacking in any observation of the rules that apply to obtaining court reports within family proceedings, and that it is not a 'court report' as Dr Lowenstein claims and would not be admissible.

"In the circumstances, I gain the very strong impression that the vulnerability of this mother may have been exploited by Dr Lowenstein, who charged her £550 for this report in the circumstances which I have just outlined.

"I am also aware that Dr Lowenstein has been criticised in another court by another judge in very similar circumstances."

Judge Lazarus said her "significant concerns" should be drawn to Dr Lowenstein's attention.

She also suggested that "this matter" should be reported to the "the professional bodies that Dr Lowenstein claims to belong to".

The judge said Dr Lowenstein was based at Southern England Psychological Services in Eastleigh.

She said he "puts himself forward" as "a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, as a qualified clinical and educational psychologist".

He had said he worked in "forensic psychology" and was "registered with the health professional council, HCPC" and practised in "the areas of clinical, educational and forensic psychology".

Dr Lowenstein had also said he had been "published widely in both clinical and educational psychology as well as forensic psychology", said the judge.

"He sets out his background training from an Australian university and a PhD from London University, that he has clinical training and a diploma in clinical and educational psychology from the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital, which qualifications were obtained in the 1960s, and that he held a former post as the principal of Allington Manor, a specialist unit for disturbed young people," she added.

"He has formerly been Chief Educational Psychologist for Hampshire and has advised and lectured in various parts of the world on the subject of setting up such centres.

"He has twice been elected to serve as director of the International Council of Psychologists and was their president from July 2011 to 2013, and claims to be currently practising as an independent expert witness for the courts and to write reports in the areas of educational and forensic psychology as well as in personal injury and criminal cases.

"He claims to work and advise in the area of family problems such as parental alienation, and he also claims to have a private practice where he treats people for a variety of psychological problems."

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