The Role of Expert Witnesses

What is an Expert Witness?

Also known as a professional witness, an expert witness is an expert, who by reason of his training, education, skill, or experience, is known to have specialised knowledge in a particular field, setting him above the average person which may be sufficient enough that other people may rely on his opinion about a particular fact or issue within his scope of expertise.

The opinion on such fact or issue, when given by a professional witness, is known as an expert opinion.

An expert witness is employed by a lawyer on behalf of the client to illuminate relatively complex issues that were brought to the court’s attention.

When to Employ an Expert Witness

In most instances, expert witnesses are relied on cases imbued with severity. These cases include lawsuits on severe injuries, determination of the degree of insanity, failure of a machine or other device, and loss of earnings. Lawsuits on intellectual property may call upon expert witnesses to determine if there was really any infringement on trademark,patent, or copyright.

There are also instances that the judge himself or herself will call upon the assistance of an expert witness to evaluate the soundness of a certain action or for the judge to acquire more knowledge on the matter under his or her review.

If you are involved or interested in a particular case, you may call upon an expert witness in the field relevant to the subject matter.

Role of an Expert Witness

Under the 1998 Rules of Civil Procedure (CPR), an expert witness must be independent and must address his or her expert report to the court having jurisdiction over the case. This rule pertains to courts in England and Wales.

Should both parties to a case agree, they may jointly instruct the expert witness, particularly if the amount of liability involved in the case is relatively small.

An expert witness must be imbued with a high sense of honesty and integrity, especially in penal trials. Perjury, or the giving of false statements in court or in subscribed documents, is heavily punished under British laws.

An expert must also remember to be objective in giving opinions at all times. He or she must bear in mind that opinions made by an expert witness should be based on factual observations and must not serve to advocate a particular party in the case.  

But the all-encompassing duty of an expert witness is sufficient knowledge of the rules on court procedure, management of time limits, management of cases, and employing means to be cost-efficient.

After all, the primary duty of an expert witness is to the court, not to the parties who employed him or her.

Update on the Role of an Expert Witness

The latest update to the CPR which took effect on 1 October 2009 introduced a change in the manner an expert witness should proceed in his or her role whilst in court.

Pursuant to the 50th update to the CPR, an expert witness must include in his or her report a clause that he or she understands their duty to the court and that he or she has complied with and shall continue to comply with all such duty and are aware of the requirements provided by pertinent sections of the CPR, more particularly in giving evidence to Civil Claims and the Practice Direction for Pre-Action conduct.