Advice for expert witnesses

BMA Medico-legal Conference

A solicitor warned consultants and GPs that expert witness work can be lucrative and rewarding – but it carried some real risks.

If they were going to take up this type of specialist private work, then they needed to be committed and do it properly, he said.

Alex Leslie, of Radcliffe LeBrasseur, said some doctors had come unstuck when solicitors occasionally discovered their expertise was not as expert as they claimed.

They should take care with their CV, stay within their area of expertise and be certain they knew the rules they were working under. Law teams looked out for publications the doctor had put into the public domain to see if their CV was accurate.

Listing ‘dos and don’ts’, Mr Leslie advised doctors to be sure to set out details of the literature or other information they relied on, something many experts didn’t do.

They should also consider whether they would be seen as partial if they failed to set out literature that did not back their opinion.

If they had been previously criticised by a judge, then they should tell the solicitor engaging them and should avoid appearing to decide the ultimate question or disputed facts.

When writing reports, they should use short and simple sentences. These really helped because nothing could be made too simple for lawyers, he said.

The expert witness should also watch their demeanour in the witness box. A judge, jury or panel would be assessing how they gave their evidence and how they reacted to searching and informed cross-examination.

Doctors should also check they were covered for their work in case things went wrong. If that happened and a judge criticised the doctor, then that would affect the witness’s future credibility and potential work opportunities.