- An expert witness provides a medical opinion on the facts of the case.
- This is different from the role of the professional witness.
- The expert witness' duty is to the court.
- Training is available from specialist companies.
The expert witness
An expert witness assists a court, tribunal or committee by providing an impartial medical opinion.
They will be experienced in a relevant specialty, and their evidence will help the court reach a decision about the case. Lawyers will decide how to proceed with a case largely based on the expert's opinion.
The expert witness will not normally have had direct clinical contact with the patient before legal proceedings start.
Who can act as an expert witness?
- Practitioners with sufficient experience in their specialty to be able to give a reliable and informed opinion to the court.
- At least 10-15 years' experience in a specialty may provide the necessary background knowledge to become an expert witness.
- Information and training is available from the Expert Witness Institute.
Duties of an expert witness
An expert witness must:
- be impartial - your duty is to the court, not the person who instructs or pays you
- confine statements to areas of relevant knowledge or direct experience
- declare any conflicts of interest without delay
- not disclose confidential information without consent (other than to parties to the proceedings, or where obliged by law or ordered by the court)
- inform appropriate people if you change your view on a material matter
- make sure that instructions you are given are clear and unambiguous.
Relevant guidance: GMC Good Medical Practice (2013).
Your duties can include:
- a clinical examination of the patient
- writing a report
- literature search
- discussions with lawyers and other experts
- attending hearings
- giving evidence based on your report.
For civil cases, you should be familiar with the Civil Procedure Rules (Rule 35) and your report must comply with them. You may be vulnerable to criticism if it does not.
This guidance was correct at publication 17/09/2014. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.