In our latest bite-sized CPD article, Emma Mitra, Elizabeth Robson Taylor, Phillip Taylor MBE, and Simon Berney-Edwards discuss the key takeaways from the Expert Witness Institute’s latest conference.
On 12 May 2023, the Expert Witness Institute (EWI) held its annual conference. Retaining the online format post-Covid has enabled the institute to guarantee high-level speakers who might not otherwise be able to attend in person; offering delegates the chance to hear from a range of exceptional speakers, either on the day or at a time that suits them. Barrister, Saba Naqshbandi, chaired the conference throughout and there were a number of sessions which are essential viewing for anyone working as an expert witness.
The keynote speech from Lady Justice Simler
In her keynote speech, Lady Justice Simler discussed what makes an excellent expert witness and how experts can increase their credibility in the eyes of the court.
By considering recent cases, Dame Simler talked through the practical things that experts can do to enhance their credibility, covering:
- Preparation for giving evidence.
- The importance of not stepping outside the bounds of expertise and not expressing an opinion on legal issues.
- The best approach to a changing case or alternative points of view.
- The importance of being independent and ensuring there is equality of arms between the parties’ experts.
Dame Simler emphasised the importance of the expert witness role in the legal profession. She said: “There is strong public interest in the work performed by experts. The justice system depends on expert evidence being the highest quality it can be.”
And, at a time when many disciplines are lacking a wide pool of high-quality experts, Lady Justice Simler praised the training and support on offer by organisations, like the Expert Witness Institute, as an integral way for professionals to access invaluable guidance, retain experts, and raise the profile of the expert witness field.
Dame Simler said: “There are difficulties securing experts across the country in a wide range of specialisms. Renumeration and rates of pay are one factor … but another is fear of criticism from the courts; from counsel during cross examination; and criticism from those that they assess.
“An increased awareness of and engagement in these activities [accreditation schemes and conferences] will increase confidence — and greater awareness — in the professions from which experts are drawn. In turn, I hope it will attract more women and those from different and diverse backgrounds.”
“You Can Always Spot a Hired Gun”
The next session on “ethical dilemmas in expert evidence” was chaired by James Hines KC with superb commentary from Lady Justice Andrews, Christopher Coltart KC, Mrs Justice McGowan and HHJ Francis Sheridan. The judicial expertise on display here covered work from the Commercial Bar/QBD PI cases by Geraldine Andrews who stressed the point that “the adversarial system depends on the independence of experts”.
Mrs Justice Maura McGowan also gave us some detailed advice on “good” and “bad” experts – those experts who are not experts, making things up as they go along, so beware.
The changing face of the expert witness
In the second discussion of the day, a panel of experts, solicitors, and barristers considered the factors driving our constantly changing environment and the skills, personal attributes, and values that all expert witnesses need to develop. In particular, barristers Josef Cannon and Hannah Eales, and solicitor Gail Waller, provided excellent feedback as to the skills and attributes they look for when they instruct experts.
Lessons in cross-examination
One of the most popular sessions of the day was led by John Coughlan KC and Colin Holburn. In this, the pair shared several pre-recorded clips of cross-examinations going wrong. There was then an opportunity to reflect on where the expert had gone wrong and what delegates could learn from this. The session finished with a final clip where all the issues had been rectified, leading to a successful cross-examination.
Access this essential CPD for free
Feedback from this year’s delegates was unanimous – the sessions at the conference are essential viewing for anyone acting as an expert witness, which will provide vital updates to ensure you maintain the quality of your expert evidence.
As someone on the MAPS expert witness panel, if you have not signed up for membership of the EWI through MAPS yet, when you join as an individual member before 31 October 2023, you will get all the recordings from this year’s conference for free, the value of which is more than the cost of your pro-rata membership.
To apply, contact EWI to get your registration link at email@example.com.
Alternatively, you can get a 10% discount on all of these recordings when you use the discount code MAPSCONF23 in the web shop by the end of August.