As an expert you should be aiming to produce a report which is free standing – from which the reader can glean the key issues in the case, understand the evidence available and reach a clear understanding of the range of expert opinion, without needing to look at any other document.
What should a good report include?
- A title page.
- Numbered pages, short numbered paragraphs and appropriate subheadings.
- Your personal details, name, current post and summary of previous experience.
- Statement of the opinion you have been asked to provide (ie your instructions).
- List of documentation considered and relied upon in reaching your opinion on the case.
- Chronology and summary of the relevant evidence.
- Details of any examination or investigation undertaken.
- The opinion.
- The concluding paragraph.
Legal and Regulatory Requirements
Experts who are preparing reports in the context of civil litigation in Northern Ireland should be familiar with Practice Direction No. 1 of 2015 (Expert Evidence), issued by the High Court of Justice. They should also sign the ‘Experts Declaration’ as contained within Practice Direction No. 7 of 2014.
Experts who prepare reports in clinical negligence cases should be aware that there is a Court Protocol for Clinical Negligence Litigation. Whilst this is principally aimed at legal practitioners, paragraphs 17-19 of the Protocol relate to expert reports and here the Court emphasises the importance of the independence of expert witnesses.
In Good Medical Practice, the GMC makes clear that you must be honest and trustworthy when giving evidence. Make sure that any evidence you give or documents you write, or sign, are not false or misleading. You should recognise and work within the limits of your competence.
Two key points:
- You must take reasonable steps to the check the information
- You must not deliberately leave out relevant information.
Acting as a witness in legal proceedings (2013) sets out the GMC’s expectations in relation to medical expert witnesses. The GMC emphasises that you must only give expert testimony and opinions about issues that are within your professional competence or about which you have relevant knowledge.
Medical Protection advice
Following the Supreme Court decision in Jones v Kaney, expert witnesses are now exposed to the risk of being sued in respect of evidence given in court.
Provided they follow the GMC’s guidance and relevant Practice Directions from the Court, allegations of negligence can be rebutted. Members involved in expert witness work should keep Medical Protection fully informed about the type of professional work they are doing, so that they have access to the appropriate indemnity at all times.