People with know-how

Where can you find an accountant, a trichologist and a career profiler? With expert witnesses hitting the headlines in the OJ Simpson and Rosemary West cases, this year's Expert Witness event at the Barbican Centre's Red Hall on 29-30 November is happening at just the right time.

The event has attracted almost 80 exhibitors to the Barbican. The wide range of expertise is evidence of how the expert witness sector has grown, with experts ranging from accountants to media monitors, timber and surface specialists to fingerprint analysts attending to network.

Expert testimony was once restricted to academics and scientists – no longer.

Accountants, for example, are usually thought of as watchdogs rather than bloodhounds.But recent high profile fraud cases and the Verity and Spindler v Lloyds Bank case highlighted the wider variety of work forensic accountants are becoming involved and instructed in.

The expert witness in the Verity case, Chilton Taylor, head of forensic accounting at Baker Tilly says: “An important factor…is that expert evidence should be given by those who not only have wide litigation experience but who also continue to practise in their chosen field. They should not be full-time experts.”

That is one view. There is an interesting mixture of experts ranging from the 'lone rangers' to the multi-nationals with their special expertise. Although none of the Big Six are attending this year, other firms such as Kidsons Impey and Avar & Co will be there.

Instructing experts is still a grey area. The event is designed so people can recognise what experts do and have a better understanding of their function. Keith Searby, managing director of the vents' organisers Trumist, says: “This is still a relatively new event – as it builds, I suspect that we will see more and more participants. It is not like displaying computer software, where there can be an almost immediate response. What usually happens is that people are only interested in expert witnesses when they actually have to find and instruct one.”

With solicitors increasingly under public scrutiny, they also have to handle the media more proactively. Newcomers to this year's event which may be able to assist in this area include media monitoring company Carma International. Managing director Sandra MacLeod says: “The earlier a solicitor acting for a defendant contacts us the better. Our research can not only be used to prove prejudicial coverage at the subsequent trial but also helps the defence team correct inaccuracies and decide what position should be taken with journalists who are covering the case.”

But it is not only the lawyers who may need guidance and training. The British Psychological Society has produced a video and print training package, launched last month at the Institute of Personnel and Development exhibition, to help expert witnesses improve their skills in court and tribunals.

Other training companies include Bond Solon Training and firms such as Nielsen-Wurster Group and Robert J Wren Associates which provide dispute avoidance and resolution services to UK and international construction markets.

Alternative dispute resolution and other proposals in the Woolf report together with other issues affecting the expert witness sector will be covered by the seminars which will take place on both days of the event.

As Searby says, this is an opportunity to view a selection of experts under one roof, and with this the first year that you can pre-register for the seminars, you should book early.