September saw the launch of the first university certified training programme for expert witnesses giving evidence in the Scottish courts.
Why should expert witnesses be trained? As well as having the relevant qualifications and expertise in their professional field, it is now regarded as essential that experts, however, experienced in their field, undertake recognised expert witness training. Lawyers look for experts who can demonstrate that they are able to meet deadlines, produce reliable and effective reports, if necessary present those reports in court and other legal fora, and that they have an understanding of the relevant law and procedure.
Training, not coaching
The new training covers all these aspects. It enables the expert to comply with their legal obligations, assuring the instructing parties and the courts of the individual’s ability as an expert witness. A trained expert will save the instructing solicitor considerable time, as the expert does not need to be handheld through the litigation process and any suggestion of “coaching” on the evidence itself is avoided.
Attending training is not sufficient. The new certificate is in two parts: Bond Solon delivers the training and the University of Aberdeen independently assesses the work of the expert. If an expert completes the training programme and university assessment, they are awarded the University of Aberdeen Bond Solon Expert Witness Certificate, the first university certificated expert witness training programme in Scotland.
The training is held in major centres around Scotland, not just at Aberdeen University, and can be held in-house if there is a group of experts. Currently, the training is delivered remotely.
An expert’s report is an essential element in litigation. It must be clear, succinct, independent and well presented. Many experts create their own report writing style, or adopt other experts’ formats and styles, having rarely received constructive feedback from lawyers on what is required from their written report. The new course explores what lawyers and the courts expect and require from an expert’s report. Working with our model format and using techniques explained during the training, experts can produce reports that are appropriate for use in litigation and can withstand cross-examination.
The witness box is a lonely place. Many experts feel they are on trial, rather than giving independent testimony to assist the court. Often they are unfamiliar with this environment, and a poor performance can undermine their confidence and credibility. The training examines the theory, practice and procedure of giving evidence to demystify the process. The experts are cross-examined on a case study based on their individual field of expertise. One of our trained Scottish lawyers gives constructive feedback on the witness box presentation.
Experts involved in proceedings in Scotland need to understand the basics of law and legal procedure, in order to work effectively and confidently and comply with various mandatory requirements. The practical implications of the Law Society of Scotland Expert Witness Code of Practice, guidance and judicial comment on the roles and responsibilities of experts are studied, so experts understand what is best practice.
The expert’s work is assessed in three parts, all of which must be submitted to the University of Aberdeen within a one-year period.
Part 1 – assessment of the expert witness report. The expert submits their witness report after taking the report writing training. This must be in court-ready condition including any photographs, plans, etc.
Part 2 – review of performance under cross-examination. A video of the expert’s performance will be made during the cross-examination training day.
Part 3 – multiple-choice examination on the law and procedure course.
Provided a pass standard is reached in all three assessments, the expert will be awarded the University of Aberdeen Bond Solon Expert Witness Certificate.
Lawyers who have experts are free to call Bond Solon to discuss training for those experts. Full details are on the Bond Solon website.
Mark Solon, chairman, Wilmington Legal and founder, Bond Solon