Intended for healthcare professionals


Roles and responsibilities of medical expert witnesses

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 04 August 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:305
  1. Mark Friston, barrister specialising in clinical negligence and litigation funding (
  1. Kings Chambers, Manchester M2 6BA

    Seek training, know the rules, take out insurance, and be rigorously impartial

    After the erasure from the medical register of Professor Sir Roy Meadow on 15 July 2005, doctors acting as expert witnesses may want to remind themselves of their duties and of what might happen if they fail to discharge those duties. Doctors wishing to rise to this challenge would do well to seek training, and many such courses are advertised on the internet. This editorial deals principally with the roles and responsibilities of experts in civil litigation in England and Wales. That said, the principles are broadly applicable to litigation in the criminal and family courts and, to varying degrees, to litigation in other jurisdictions.

    Expert witnesses can take sage guidance from the judgment of Mr Justice Cresswell in the “Ikarian Reefer.”1 This case involved a Panamanian vessel that ran aground and caught fire; the insurers argued that the vessel was the subject of arson by the owners, and in this regard they relied on expert evidence. The case heralded important changes in the use of expert witnesses. Mr Justice Cresswell's guidance (which is paraphrased in the box) has largely been incorporated in the Civil Procedure Rules.2

    A joint expert

    The Ikarian Reefer case was decided at a time when experts were usually instructed individually by each party rather than jointly by both parties. Nowadays, unless there is reason for doing otherwise, the parties in civil litigation will usually be required to …

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