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Expert evidence.

OT poses a monthly scenario from a practitioner. This month, we look at what the role of being an expert witness involves for optometrists

The scenario

Benjamin, AOP member "As an experienced optometrist who has been practising full-time for more than 20 years, I am looking to expand my skillset in a non-clinical capacity and have been considering becoming an expert witness. Can you tell me more about what this role involves and the duties it would require of me?"

In July 2016, OT reported on the criminal trial of optometrist, Honey Rose, in which expert witnesses drawn from a number of disciplines, including optometry, were heavily involved on behalf of the prosecution and defence teams. The published report describes the case against an optometrist, and offers an insight into the role of the expert witness in a criminal trial. (1)

Experts and expert witnesses

An expert is anyone with knowledge or experience of a particular discipline beyond that to be expected of a layman. An expert witness is an expert who makes this knowledge and experience available to a court to help it understand the issues of a case and a thereby reach a sound and just decision. The College of Optometrists offers some guidance on practising as an expert witness, with more information contained in the textbook Getting Started as an Expert Witness. (2,3)

What is expert evidence?

The fundamental characteristic of expert evidence is that it is opinion evidence. It should be independent, objective and unbiased. It must provide as much detail as is necessary to allow the judge to determine that the expert's opinions are well founded. It will often include: factual evidence obtained by the witness requiring expertise in its interpretation; factual evidence which, while it may not require expertise for its comprehension, is linked inextricably to evidence that does; explanations of technical terms; and opinions based on facts.

Duties of an expert witness

The overriding duty of an expert witness is to the court. They must be truthful as to fact, thorough in technical reasoning, honest as to opinion and complete in the coverage of relevant matters. To fulfil these duties adequately, it is vital that the expert should also have kept up to date with current thinking; and be familiar with the provisions of the various court rules.

Fees

The fees experts charge are, in large part, market driven. What's more, fees charged in cases that are paid for from public funds are subject to Ministry of Justice caps. (4) The UK Register of Expert Witnesses conducts a biannual survey on expert fees amongst its members. (5) The current average hourly rate for report writing for optometrists for non-legal aid civil work is 241 [pounds sterling] per hour (2015 data). (5)

Why be an expert witness?

Expert witness work can be a rewarding adjunct, both intellectually and financially, to an existing professional workload. However, anyone considering entering the fray should take care to understand the role and the expert's duties and ethical considerations therein.

References

For free access to expert witness guidance, visit www.ukrew.org.uk

References

For references, visit www.optometry.co.uk

The advice

Dr Chris Pamplin, UK Register of Expert Witnesses

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Title Annotation:THE WORKSHOP
Author:Pamplin, Chris
Publication:Optometry Today
Date:Oct 1, 2017
Words:533
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