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This paper examines the roles and responsibilities of an expert witness in the legal system of England and Wales. The term itself may cause confusion. “Expert” implies that the person will have special knowledge or skill of the subject. To those outside the courtroom the implication may be that this person is the very leader in the specific field on which he is being asked to comment. In reality, this is not really what the courts require and their view of an expert is simply that the person will be independent and have special skill and expertise in the area. As such he is quite different from a witness of fact—that is, someone directly involved in the events under scrutiny. He will not be expected to be the major opinion leader in the particular field or the person who possesses the greatest skill and experience in that field. What the courts want is to hear from an unbiased and independent person who is clearly able to represent an authoritative opinion about a particular issue and to educate the court on the range of opinion which may exist. Cases have come unstuck where lawyers rely on expert witnesses drawn from either end of the range of opinion. In simple terms, the courts prefer to hear from expert witnesses who are able to see both sides of an argument.
An expert witness may be used in a number of different types of legal proceeding within the United Kingdom. The commonest use is in clinical negligence cases, which are governed by civil law, but experts may be used in criminal proceedings, personal injury and industrial tribunals. This report will only deal with the field of clinical negligence. An accompanying paper deals with what the legal profession expects of an expert witness. This paper …
Competing interests: None declared.