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Are you qualified to be an expert?
- Feb 9, 2022
- Latest News
by Alec Samuels
Are you qualified to be an expert? Of course I am, you will respond. The solicitors would not have instructed me if I was not qualified; and I would not have accepted instructions if not qualified.
But it may not be quite so straightforward. Degrees and professional qualifications have to be appropriate in an increasingly specialist world. Experience can be a qualification, but must be appropriate for an expert to be called. Seeking to save time and expense in a troubled court system bedevilled by delay caused by Covid, the judges are strict in considering applications for permission.
The expert will probably be questioned by the judge and the advocate for the other side on those qualifications. So they had better be accurate, not exaggerated or inappropriate. Long lists might give the wrong impression, witness too proud, so a short summary with an appendix might be indicated. The level of expertise should be appropriate. A big serious case calls for an expert at consultant level; a small minor case calls for a general practitioner. Qualification and experience should be up-to-date, not going back for many years and not recently refreshed. The role of the expert is to assist the judge, and the jury in a jury case, to understand technical matters normally outside their normal range of experience in ordinary life.
The professional qualifications
The professional qualifications must be of minimum reputable standards. The case involved slave trading, exploitation, immigration. The expert had a BA in social work, a diploma in social work, an MSc in forensic psychology and criminology, had carried out research into offender profiling and had engaged in delivering training. The court, none other than the Lord Chief Justice, doubted the relevance of the qualifications in the circumstances, and anyway found the quality of the expert to be lacking, so rejected the witness R v Brecani  EWCA Crim 731,  1 WLR 5857, paras 66-75.
Knowledge and experience
The expert need not be professionally qualified, he may be acceptable by reason of knowledge and experience. A police officer of many years may know all that there is to know about drug dealing and knife use and gang warfare in his local area. The investigators into aircraft crashes from the Aircraft Accident Investigation Branch AAIB are universally recognised as real experts, as they have a lot of detailed technical knowledge of aviation and aircraft. But administrators, civil servants and similar public officials, case workers and such like, however worthy and industrious and long-serving, are most unlikely to qualify, even though they may have been dealing with immigration cases and exploitation of vulnerable people.
A very reliable book for the aspiring reliable expert witness, whatever his level of qualification and/or experience, is The Reliable Expert Witness, by Mark Tottenham, Clarus Press, 2021.
© Alec Samuels