UK expert witnesses criticised for partiality and lack of expertise
Experienced expert witnesses know that there are essential commandments that come with the role, including:
Thou shalt not appear to be partisan: ie no matter who is paying the bill, an expert witness' overriding duty is to assist the court.
Thou shalt not unqualifiedly reckon: ie expert witnesses should only opine about things that they are, in fact, qualified to speak about.
In a recent keynote speech to an Expert Witness Institute conference, Lord Justice Hamblen of the Supreme Court was critical of some experts appearing in the UK courts; in particular their inability to abide by these two cardinal duties. His concerns were echoed by a panel of other Judges at the same conference.
Of the first duty, Justice Hamblen said:
’There is nothing more fatal to the acceptability of an expert’s evidence than the questions of independence and impartiality ... It will taint all [and] it is therefore vital to avoid any hint of partiality.
And of the second, he wryly observed:
It is not the experience of giving evidence in court that makes you an expert.
But why do some expert witnesses struggle to abide by these rules?
Perhaps, because the core duties of an expert are more nuanced than they first appear.
Andbecause these subtleties have a terrible tendency to manifest under cross examination...
... which, by then, may be too late.
Giving expert evidence requires special skills
The reality is that, while being qualified, knowledgeable or specialist in a particular field is important, experience alone does not guarantee that your expertise will carry weight in court.
For many professionals, the business of becoming an expert witness - working with lawyers, presenting written evidence, the testing of that evidence in court, being required to produce a joint report with others - is unfamiliar work and can involve different competencies than those used in their day jobs.
And, while reading books, studying the theory and knowing the rules of giving opinion evidence are all important, cerebral learning alone will only get you so far.
You are more likely to gain the know-how and confidence needed to become a respected expert witness when you have undertaken practical, skills-based training.
Where to find expert witness skills training
Legal Empowerment has a licence to run the acclaimed Bond Solon expert witness skills training courses, which we have adapted especially for witnesses appearing in courts, tribunal and arbitrations in Australia and New Zealand.
We regularly deliver Expert Report Writing and Courtroom/Cross Examination skills workshops in our virtual classrooms. And we can provide more bespoke training to groups of 6 or more.
If you are interested in undertaking expert witness training, you can find more details about each workshop here:
Legal Empowerment Expert Witness Training
And details of our upcoming public workshops here:
Expert Witness Public Workshops
Partisan Experts can be Fatal, Supreme Court Justice Warns, The Law Society Gazette, 22 May 2022
The modern expert: personal insights and current issues - Lord Hamblen of Kersey addresses expert witnesses at EWI's annual Conference, Expert Witness Institute, 20 May 2022