Negligence of medical expertsBMJ 2005; 330 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7498.1026-a (Published 28 April 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1026
Expert witnesses should adhere to Civil Procedure Rules 1998 and be impartial
- Raymund Carroll, consultant urological surgeon (, )
- Richard G Notley, consultant urological surgeon
EDITOR—Bishop's personal view on the negligence of medical experts should not pass unchallenged.1
Lord Woolf made it clear in the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, which came into effect in 1999, that all expert witnesses, medical or otherwise, have an absolute obligation to follow them. Part 35 sets out that the expert has an overriding duty to help the court, not to support the party who has engaged the expert. This means strict impartiality and requires various undertakings from the expert.
The facts used in the expert's report must be true
The expert's opinions must be reasonable and based on current experience of the problem in question. When there is a range of reasonable opinion, the expert is obliged to consider the extent of that range in the report and to acknowledge any matters that might adversely affect the validity of the opinion provided
The expert is obliged to indicate the sources of all the information provided and not to include or exclude anything that has been suggested by others (particularly the instructing lawyers) without forming an independent view
The expert must make it clear that the opinions expressed represent his or her true and complete professional opinion.
The medical expert witness must examine the facts, write them down clearly, and provide an opinion on the propriety of the treatment provided. So the expert witness must be a doctor of sufficient standing and experience in the appropriate specialty. He or she must be able to set out the various aspects of the problem in an impartial and informed fashion so that lawyers can understand it, which requires training. Wise lawyers use experts that they have learnt will give reliable impartial opinions—it is better to have your expert demolish a case before it starts than to have it die a lingering and expensive death because the original opinion is not impartial.
In our experience, most expert medical witnesses provide impartial and balanced opinions.
Negligence is not, has never been, and will never be the province of the expert witness: the court decides negligence after balancing the opinions provided by expert witnesses.
Competing interests None declared