Guidance on handling requests for 'screening' reports
An expert in the UK Register of Expert Witnesses emailed our helpline recently to ask about a request he had received from a law firm to prepare a ‘screening report’. Our expert was interested in what was expected in a screening report, how he was supposed to set a fee and if he provided a screening report would he be obliged to write a report for court if the case proceeded.
There is a growing market for lightweight ‘screening’ reports. Mostly they are used simply to help a potential litigant make a decision. As such, they are not court-compliant reports, and the expert is working as an expert advisor rather than as an expert witness. As an expert advisor, an expert does not have any particular, and no overriding, duty to the court and is completely free to offer advice on any matter within his or her competency, such as exploring the strengths and weaknesses of a case and how it might be presented in the strongest way... not something an expert witness would ever do!
In a few cases we have heard of a party trying to use a screening report in litigation even though the report has clearly not been prepared, and may very well be unsuitable, for that use. However, that risk can be avoided by the expert marking the report with something like ‘This report is not CPR-compliant and cannot be used in court proceedings’.
As to the cost, the usual approach is to set a fee (based on some agreed amount of time) and for experts to restrict themselves to such time frames.
If the client wishes to proceed with a case in which an expert has provided a screening report as an expert advisor, there is nothing in the rules to prevent the expert changing roles. But in such a situation, the expert would need to write a new, CPR-compliant report, and be sure to make clear to the client that there now exists an overriding duty to the court and a duty to impartiality. Some experts prefer not to to take on both roles because they have found that clients struggle to understand the difference between the advisory and witness roles.