Simon Berney-Edwards, chief executive of the Expert Witness Institute (EWI), outlines its new competency framework for expert witnesses, why it is important and how you can use it.
What is the framework?
The EWI has launched a core competency framework for expert witnesses which sets out the attributes, knowledge and skills that experts must develop if they wish to act as an expert witness.
It is a useful tool in several ways:
- It outlines the knowledge and skills that are required of expert witnesses
- It can be used as a self-assessment tool for you to think about your personal and professional development
- It can be used for skills analysis, training, and career development plans, and enables you to identify continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities and training needs
- It underpins EWI’s levels of membership and the assessment and vetting process for each
- If you are not yet a member, it can be used to assess the membership level you should consider
- It can be used to assess relevant training courses for expert witnesses.
Why do we need a set of core competencies?
Over the last year, we have seen the results of experts acting as expert witnesses without fully understanding their duties to the court, or having the sufficient training and competencies to act as an expert witness.
As an expert witness, individuals must develop additional knowledge, skills and competencies in order to fulfil their duty to the court.
I am also continually reminded of this quote from Her Honour Judge Anuja Dhir QC at our last conference:
“When an expert gives their opinion well it has a devastating impact on the outcome of a trial, so they shouldn’t underestimate the importance of their evidence and the importance of getting it right.”
There is a particularly high burden of responsibility placed on medico-legal expert witnesses to evidence their CPD and demonstrate their compliance with the recommendations from the Academy of Medical Royal colleges.
The core competencies framework articulates the full set of knowledge and skills which must be developed, and provides a framework for experts to develop those skills.
Expert vs expert witness
To be an expert witness, you need to be an expert. This may seem obvious, but being an expert is not the same as an expert witness.
An expert offers special insight in a particular field. An expert witness, however, must develop additional knowledge, skills and competencies to fulfil their duty to the court. This framework outlines the full set of competencies which must be developed to become an expert witness.
The core competency framework
Ethics, values and personal attributes are placed at the centre of the wheel, as they are core to the individual and underpin their work as an expert witness.
Area of expertise refers to the knowledge, skills, and experience developed by the individual, which enables them to act as an expert in the field.
Expert witness competencies are the specific knowledge and skill sets required of an expert witness.
These competencies have been set within a commitment to CPD, because it is essential that expert witnesses maintain their professional development relevant to both their area of expertise and their expert witness practice.
The competencies are also set within a commitment to the expert witness profession, because it is vital that the community commits to the importance of appropriately trained expert witnesses and the improvement of standards of expert witness practice.
Assessing your knowledge and experience with the help of the core competencies
The core competencies document has been designed as a practical self-assessment tool. This means you can carry out self-assessment of your knowledge and skills against all areas.
To assist you in doing this, the EWI has developed a set of self-assessment ratings which are included in the tool. These will help you consider your level of knowledge and skills in each area, and identify areas that you might want to develop as part of your own CPD.
For those considering membership of the EWI, the expected levels for knowledge and experience for each competency have been mapped to the different levels of membership, which enables you to consider the appropriate level of membership for which to apply.
Take a look
Now you know what it is, why don’t you take a look?
Here are a few practical suggestions:
- Read the core competencies for expert witnesses
- Use the self-assessment ratings to score your level of knowledge and experience
- Identify any areas that you want to develop and consider what training you need.
You can download the competency framework from the EWI website here.
Not just for new expert witnesses
Although the core competency framework outlines the skills you need to develop to become an expert witness, it isn’t just for experts who are new to expert witness work. In fact, some of the cases which have appeared in the press lately were experienced experts.
The framework is there for anyone and highlights the importance of keeping up to date with CPD specifically related to your expert witness work, so you are aware of changes in procedures and approaches. This is fundamental to any expert witness.
By being a member of the Expert Witness Institute, you are demonstrating that you sign up to a code of professional conduct, that you take your duties as an expert witness seriously and keep up to date with your professional development. This is why we continue to keep raising the profile of the institute and the importance of instructing properly trained expert witnesses.