LSC’s expert consultation shows depth of concern

A consultation by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) on the use of expert witnesses has garnered more than 150 responses, which is believed to be a record for the organisation.

The consultation ended on 25 February and the LSC’s report was scheduled for 30 April. However, due to the number and length of responses, the LSC may have to delay a full report.

In the consultation paper, the LSC suggested a number of proposals designed to improve the quality and cost control of expert witnesses in publicly funded cases. It recommended that expert witnesses be accredited by the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP).

The consultation also set out guideline payment rates for experts and proposed a system whereby solicitors be given an annual or biannual sum to be used for experts’ fees.

Although many of the responses welcomed the chance for a consultation, there was nevertheless much criticism concerning the rigidity of many of the proposals. The Law Society’s response warns: “Accreditation should not create a ‘closed shop’; any system should be open, transparent and accessible to all.”

The Academy of Experts, a professional body for expert witnesses in the UK, believes that were the LSC to recommend that all expert witnesses be accredited by the CRFP, the ensuing monopoly would be “a significant anticompetitive measure limiting freedom of choice in a sphere of public importance”.

The consultation paper’s proposals on fees receive the harshest criticism, with responses saying that the quality of experts will be reduced if fees go down.

Dr Chris Pamplin, editor of the UK Register of Expert Witnesses, commented: “We’re already seeing a drop in the number of experts who are prepared to do this work, and the LSC proposals would drive good expert witnesses away from expert work.”

Philip Newman, the deputy chair of the Academy of Experts, added: “What we don’t want is for the LSC to create tension within the expert community.”