The use of expert witnesses is not a new thing, but their presence and profile is higher now than ever. This is partly due to developments in the justice system, such as the introduction of the Civil Procedure Rules, high profile experts such as Professor Sir Roy Meadow, and professionals becoming more alive to the ability to generate fees from this area of work.
The latter can be seen as both a positive and a negative. Experienced professionals can add value to the process and are necessary to enable parties to reach settlement. Unfortunately, the lure of fees has seen some professionals dabble in the area of expert witness work, with disastrous consequences.
Experts need to understand their role, responsibilities and duties in relation to expert work, in addition to knowing their own profession.
The Civil Procedure Rules, Part 35 encapsulate the duties of the expert, and all experts should know in detail the contents of Part 35 and the Practice Direction.
Choosing an expert
With more professionals willing to undertake expert witness work, how do you select the right expert for your case?
The safest approach is of course to use an expert you or your firm has previously used. They will be a known quantity. Personal recommendation from barristers and peers can also be beneficial.
The Expert Witness Directory provides access to a list of accredited experts, as do the various Expert bodies (The Academy of Experts, The Expert Witness Institute, and the Society of Experts). Each body provides a degree of accreditation with most requiring references from instructing solicitors.
In recent years numerous on-line directories have appeared. The usefulness of these directories is mixed, and their credibility can be questioned when the number of experts listed is low and experts you know to be practising are not included. Some are merely tools for generating advertising revenue.
Finally, use the power of the internet. A search using one of the well known search engines will return a number of hits. Most serious experts will have a web site offering details of their skills and experience and often their CV.
Check their credentials
And, if approaching an expert you do not know, do not be afraid to question them on their experience, number of appearances in Court, number of reports written and ask what they can bring to your particular case. If they are experienced experts they will ask you just as many questions in return about the case, because they will not want to take on a case in which they do not have the right abilities or experience.
Finally, don’t assume experts are only for litigated matters. They can play an important and valuable role in dispute resolution generally, providing of course you select the right expert for the case.