Registration not accreditation
When it comes to the Ministry of Justice's proposal to create a new expert witness accrediation scheme, it looks like the CRFP all over again.
In this issue (see Backlash on Whiplash) we report on Lord Faulks’s determination to deliver a new accreditation scheme for expert witnesses in ‘whiplash cases’ (in fact that phrase encompasses most low-value personal injury claims resulting from road traffic accidents). This scheme should, he says, include peer review and auditing elements, which, he believes, will identify substandard reporting. Lord Faulks wants this new scheme to be funded entirely by ‘the industry’, and it all has to be delivered by December 2014.
The driver for this renewed interest in expert accreditation comes from the October 2013 Government response to its whiplash consultation (Cm 8738, October 2013). It states that:
‘Of the options set by the Government for independent medical panels, the specific model preferred most [i.e. 38% of respondents] was for a system based around accreditation of experts as a significant step in improving standards of examinations and medical reporting of whiplash injury claims.’
Leaving to one side the unseemly haste, the spectre of expert witness accreditation has been with us before. Indeed, over a decade the Government poured more than £3.2 million of public money into the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP) in an abortive attempt to create such a system. This was followed by the Civil Justice Council convening a programme of work back in 2005 to look at accrediting expert witnesses, and the idea was rejected decisively.
Whiplash panels are unremarkable in themselves. The ‘sausage machine’ approach to a commoditised low-value PI industry has been with us for a few years, and it now has such a slim overlap with delivering justice that it should probably be removed from the legal system entirely!
However, the next tranche of rapid-fire reform promised by Lord Faulks – an entirely new system of accrediting experts – is, in my view, most unlikely to be fit for purpose. It will depend on the detail, of course, but if the primary aim is, as stated, to deal with the occasional rogue expert, then what’s required is a registration not an accreditation scheme.
We wonder what exactly there is to accredit in an expert witness’s ability to form an opinion and bear witness to it. There is, of course, scope to accredit expert witnesses as experts, but it should be undertaken, if at all, by the existing professional bodies, not a new quango. That approach was tried through the CRFP with entirely predictable results.