I don't want to overreact to what may have been intended as a humorous article by Charlotte Cochrane in the supplement on Expert Witnesses (The Lawyer 19 November), but I have to say our experience of acting as expert witnesses for the prosecution or defence in criminal cases and for plaintiffs and defendants in civil matters, gained in a good number of cases over the past 15 years, has been very different.
The idea that any of us could persuade the court of anything by being partisan, other than our unfitness to act as an expert, never occurred to us. Nor do I think it would have occurred to any of the lawyers who instructed us.
Indeed, we were asked by judges in two separate cases recently whether we were aware of the Ikarian Reefer case. (This covers the duties and responsibilities of experts, including: independence from the exigencies of litigation; assistance to the court by way of objective unbiased opinion in relation to matters within their expertise; limiting comments to issues within that expertise; stating facts and assumptions on which their opinions are based; and not omitting to consider material facts which could detract from their opinions.)
This is hardly surprising, for it is the willingness of the expert to reconsider the issues when faced with new evidence that makes him or her persuasive and effective.
It is my experience that when experts are partisan, they do great damage to their own credibility and their client's case. As well as having a duty to the courts, it is in the interest of clients that experts are impartial, objective and reasonable in their deliberations.