Expert witnesses report better bonds with firms

Relationships between expert witnesses and instructing solicitors are improving, as the number of experts instructed to appear in court increases.

Nearly 90 per cent of expert witnesses said they found solicitors’ instructions at least adequate, and there has been a rise in the number of solicitors paying experts’ fees promptly.

Legal training consultancy Bond Solon interviewed more than 150 expert witnesses for the survey, including accountants, medics and psychiatrists.

The highest-earning expert earned £280,000 from being a witness in 2004, and 12 per cent of respondents said they charged more than £1,600 to attend court. The hourly rate for expert witnesses is rising, with 8 per cent of those surveyed saying their rate was between £250 and £299 an hour, compared with just 4 per cent in 2004.

The number of instructions received by expert witnesses has risen for the third year in succession, with 53 per cent of respondents reporting more instructions in 2005. Most experts are ‘very optimistic’ or ‘optimistic’ about the future.

However, not everyone is satisfied with the relationship between solicitors and expert witnesses. More than half of respondents (55 per cent) said there were firms of solicitors they would never work with again, although this figure dropped from 63 per cent in 2004.

Solicitors are not helping the matter by paying expert witness fees ‘late’ or ‘very late’. The survey found that 72 per cent of instructing solicitors paid fees late, and none paid early.

The findings come after several high-profile cases in which experts have been discredited. Last year, leading paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow was struck off by the General Medical Council after his evidence in a number of cot death cases was found to be “misleading”.