Your Witness • Issue 1 • September 1995

Welcome to our first issue
‘The ring of competence’
Expert witness survey – the results
Comment
Roll up! Roll up!
Raise your profile
Nota bene

Welcome to our first issue
Welcome to the first of the newsletters we at J S Publications will be producing to keep you informed about matters relating to your work as an expert witness.

Hitherto, I have only written to you once a year, at the time when we submit for approval a draft of your entry in the next edition of the UK Register of Expert Witnesses. With so many new developments to report, though, I feel there is a need for us to be in more frequent contact. Hence this newsletter, which will, I hope, enable me to keep you better informed about matters relating to the Register, as well as provide space for the discussion of topics of general interest to the expert witness community.

The main article in this issue analyses the replies we received to the Expert Witness Questionnaire distributed in May, and I will not anticipate here John Lord’s findings. I would, however, urge you to read the article right through and then, if you have not already done so, return a completed questionnaire yourself.

The Register logo which we launched in April has been warmly received by expert witnesses, as a simple way to advertise their competence, and by lawyers, as a means of identifying experts experienced in the requirements of litigation. Full details are given in this issue on how you may begin to use the logo yourself.

The Profile Sheet is another of our recent innovations. It enables us to provide our lawyer subscribers with more detailed information on you than it is appropriate to include in your Register entry – at no extra cost to yourself or the subscriber. If you have not already availed yourself of this new service and would like to do so, please see the article.

The final item in this issue describes a service for solicitors that is still at the planning stage, but requires your help before it can be launched. If you can contribute some nuggets of information for our Nota Bene project I would be very glad to hear from you.

I hope that you will find this first issue of our newsletter to be of interest. Any comments you have on it, and still better any items you may care to contribute to future issues, would be most welcome.

Dr Chris Pamplin

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‘The ring of competence’
Because of the objective vetting procedures which we at J S Publications employ in compiling the UK Register of Expert Witnesses, having an entry in it demonstrates competence in that role. Until recently, however, there has been no simple way for you to indicate that you are included in the Register. All that has now changed with the introduction of the Register logo. The logo provides a convenient means for you to demonstrate your expert witness credentials, on your stationery, reports and any advertising material you produce.

If you would like to make use of the logo there are three ways in which you can do so. First, we can supply it in the form of rolls of transparent stickers which come in three different sizes. Then again, should you wish to incorporate the logo in your letterhead we can supply bromide artwork for it which you can hand on to your printer. Finally, for those of you who print your own letterhead via your PCs, the logo is available electronically in four common formats: Windows bitmap (.BMP), CorelDRAW!5 (.CDR), placeable postscript (.EPS) and the industry standard TIFF format (.TIF).

The bromide artwork and electronic format can be supplied to you free of charge, although we do ask you to return the floppy disk once you have made a copy for your own use. The transparent stickers come in three diameters – 13.5, 20 and 26 mm. A roll of 500 stickers in any one size costs 10.00 (+VAT).

If you would like to order the logo in any of the available formats, or have any queries about it, please write to me at J S Publications or telephone (01638) 561590.

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Expert witness survey – the results
In May this year J S Publications distributed a questionnaire to a large sample of the experts who have entries in the 8th edition of the UK Register of Expert Witnesses. Of the 1341 questionnaires mailed, 451 were returned – a response rate of 33.6%. This number of replies is easily large enough to permit a statistical analysis of the answers provided, while the level of response encourages me to think that any conclusions to be drawn from the analysis may well be applicable to expert witnesses in general. Certainly one of the most remarkable features of the survey is the uniformity of the statistics across the whole range of those questionnaired. Time and again the same results emerged, regardless of the length of time those replying had been engaged in expert witness work, the workload it engendered for them or the amount of expert witness training that they had received.

Experience and prospects
Overall, those replying to the questionnaire were very experienced. Just about 60% of them had been undertaking expert witness work for more than 10 years, and a further 31% for between 5 and 10 years. On the other hand, only one in five categorized it as their principal activity, and for half of them it accounted for less than one fifth of their workload.

More interesting still, the great majority – 82% – foresaw their involvement in expert witness work as increasing in the future.

Frequency of enquiries
We asked our experts to tell us how many enquiries they had received from instructing solicitors during the previous 12 months, and their replies revealed widely differing levels of demand. At one end of the scale 5% of them reported that they had received no enquiries during the period, while at the other end 28% reported to have had more than 25. The median figure was 10 enquiries over the 12 months.

Frequency of instruction
The questions we posed under this heading distinguished between those instructions to write expert reports and those requiring evidence to be given in court or before a tribunal. As might be expected, there was a much greater incidence of the former, with 27% of those replying having written more than 25 reports during the previous 12 months but only 2% having made that many court appearances. Indeed, almost 35% of the experts completing the questionnaire had made no court appearances at all during the period.

The median levels of activity were, for writing reports, between six and 10 instructions, and for giving evidence in court, between one and five instructions.

Business practices
A number of the questions touched on the business side of being an expert witness, and it has to be said that they produced some disquieting answers. Thus:

  • 43% of the respondents do not routinely ask enquirers how they came to hear of their expert witness capabilities
  • 68% have no standard form of contract for use when accepting instructions
  • 41% do not even stipulate by when their fees should be paid.

This situation is all the more surprising when one considers that the great majority of expert witnesses are professional people used to dealing with clients in a business-like way in their other spheres of activity.

Payment for services rendered
The answers to questions on this topic revealed an even more lamentable state of affairs. Thus:

  • only 32% of those experts who stipulated payment of their fees within a fixed period were able to report that the solicitors instructing them settled on time in even the majority of instances, while a staggering 41% claimed that solicitors did so in less than one case in four.
  • 52% of the 346 respondents who accepted instructions in legally aided cases reported that in at least half of them solicitors excused delay in paying fees on the grounds that they had yet to be reimbursed themselves by the Legal Aid Board – a situation which need never arise if solicitors claimed for expert witness expenses in good time.

These findings clearly demonstrate the need both for individual expert witnesses to adopt a more rigorous approach in their dealings with solicitors and for the latter to meet their obligations far more speedily.

Training needs
We asked a number of questions about training and whether more might be welcomed. Bearing in mind that over 90% of those replying had been undertaking expert witness work for at least 5 years, their answers on this topic were no less surprising than those already mentioned – but, in this case, encouragingly so.

It is no doubt to be expected that the majority of expert witnesses have received no formal training in either the requirements of litigation or how to conduct themselves in court. It is, after all, only in the last few years that courses have been devised for this purpose. Indeed, in such circumstances it is commendable that 43% of those returning the questionnaire had already taken advantage of such courses. What is remarkable is the near unanimity of their answers to the subsidiary question, Was the training of value to you?, with 96% replying ‘Very much so’.

Turning to future training requirements, 39% of respondents expressed an interest in attending day courses on court techniques, and 37% said that they would be interested in renting training videos on the same topic. And, no doubt because of their favourable previous experience of it, those who had undertaken some training already were just as keen to attend courses and rent videos as those who had undertaken none.

Organisations
Just 26% of the experts who answered the question about the professional organisations they belonged to mentioned any that catered for their needs as expert witnesses, and even this may overstate the position for expert witnesses in general. Thus, while 16% of the experts who returned questionnaires said that they were members of the Academy of Experts, only 10% of those listed in the UK Register of Expert Witnesses cite membership of that body among their post-nominals. This suggests that fewer than one in five of the experts in the Register currently belong to any organisation related to their expert witness work.

Yet it is abundantly clear from the answers to the question, Would you be interested in joining an informal association for the purposes of exchanging information, promoting training and establishing standards?, that such a body could meet a real need. No fewer than 276 of the 451 replying to this question, or 66%, answered, ‘Yes’, and 119 of them further indicated that they would be willing to play an active role in the association’s formation. Intriguingly, this enthusiasm was shared in like measure by respondents who already belong to other relevant organisations – in their case 63% replying affirmatively. Even for them, it would seem, their needs as expert witnesses are not being fully catered for.

It would be a bold step to conclude from the response to these particular questions that the interest in such an association would be shared by those other experts in the UK Register of Expert Witnesses who have yet to be sent the questionnaire – and still less, of course, by those who did not get round to responding to the one they received last May. If these two groups can now be persuaded to add their voice, it would be that much easier to determine whether we have the makings of a viable organisation committed to meeting the needs of all expert witnesses.

John Lord

Highlights

  • Four out of five expert witnesses expect their workload to increase.
  • The majority are insufficiently business-like in their dealings with solicitors.
  • In general, solicitors are abysmally slow in paying fees.
  • More opportunities for training would be welcomed even by the most experienced of witnesses.
  • There is considerable support for the idea of an association to promote the interests of all expert witnesses.

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Comment
For me, the most intriguing outcome of the questionnaire we distributed 4 months ago was the level of support it revealed for the idea of an informal association of expert witnesses. As you will have read in John Lord’s analysis of the replies we received, no fewer than 276 of the 451 experts who responded indicated that they would be interested in joining such an organisation.

The question which elicited such a positive response suggested that the purposes of forming an association might be to facilitate the exchange of information between members, to arrange courses for those requiring further training, and generally to help establish standards for expert witness work. To my mind, though, its overriding aim must be to get more work for its members, for unless it succeeds in that, it cannot expect to retain their support.

Another highly significant statistic mentioned in John’s article is that four out of five of those who returned the questionnaire expect to be undertaking more expert witness work in future. If that happens, they will be in even greater need of the kind of help an association could provide. In my view, the association cannot be set up too soon.

I should make it clear that J S Publications has no wish to ‘run’ an organisation of this kind. It can only come into being if a sufficient number of expert witnesses want it to, and it can only develop in accordance with the wishes of its members. My firm is prepared, though, to give all the help it can to get the association started and to provide it with administrative help in the initial stages.

To help determine more exactly the extent of the interest other experts may have in the formation of the proposed association, we are enclosing the original questionnaire with the copies of this newsletter that are going to those who did not receive it the first time round. We are at the same time re-circulating the questionnaire to those who were sent it back in May but did not respond then. In view of the relevance and importance of the information we are seeking, I do hope that you will spare the time to complete the form now.

Some of you may feel inclined to ask, ‘Why promote the formation of a new organisation for expert witnesses when there already exists the Academy of Experts?’ It is inevitable, of course, that there would be some overlap in the aims of the two bodies, but the fact remains that barely one in 10 of the individuals listed in the UK Register of Expert Witnesses is a member of the Academy. It cannot therefore be said that the latter caters for the needs of more than a small minority of the people currently engaged in expert witness work.

Assuming for a moment that an association of the kind I am envisaging were to come into being, I see no reason why it could not exist side by side with the Academy. Indeed, in many respects they would be fulfilling complementary, not conflicting, roles. All that, however, must be left to the future. In the meantime, I would urge those of you who have yet to complete our questionnaire to take this opportunity of doing so and to return it to us as quickly as possible. For our part, we will report back on the replies we receive in the next of these newsletters, and we will use the same means to keep you informed on other developments regarding the proposed association.

Chris Pamplin

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Roll up! Roll up!
Bond Solon Training have sent us details of a conference they are organising on the work of expert witnesses. It is to take place at the Church House Conference Centre in Westminster on Friday 27 October and will last all day.

The various sessions promise to address many of the issues currently facing experts who hope to expand their expert witness work. There will also be an opportunity at the end of the day for delegates to air their views on other topics of common concern.

You will need to act fast, though, because Bond Solon have been taking bookings from their former trainees for some weeks past and numbers are limited.

For further details, please see the enclosed information sheet.

Kate Porter

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Raise your profile
A service that we launched earlier this year is already achieving its objective of generating more work for experts listed in the UK Register of Expert Witnesses. Over 800 of you responded to our invitation last January to provide additional information about yourselves in the form of Profile Sheets. These we undertook to store electronically and supply free of charge to any subscriber who might wish to see them. We are currently receiving up to a dozen calls a week from solicitors taking advantage of this facility.

If you did not provide us with a profile in the spring, now is the time to think about preparing one in readiness for the next edition of the Register. To enable us to scan the additional information onto our database, the profile needs to be submitted on one side of an A4 sheet, with margins of 7 cm at the top, 3 cm at the bottom and 2 cm on both sides, and it should be typed or printed in a text size no smaller than 10 point. Please bear in mind, too, that as your profile may also need to be faxed, it would be as well to avoid tinted or stippled backgrounds and to keep any artwork you use as simple as possible.

We advertise the fact that we hold a profile for you in your entry in the Register. Subscribers to it will know from this that they can ask us for a copy of the sheet should they require more information about you, and we will fax or mail it to them by return. As our computer will automatically head such a copy with your name, address and contact numbers, there is no need to incorporate these details in the information you submit.

Make it relevant
The sole purpose of providing solicitors with profile sheets is to help them select the most appropriate expert witness for the case they have in hand – conceivably from among a number listed in the Register with similar fields of expertise. Because they will already have access to a copy of the directory, there is no need for you to repeat in your profile those details contained in your entry. You should instead take the opportunity to present such other information as might clinch matters in your favour.

The following are examples of details you might wish to cover, but they are meant as suggestions only and you are certainly not expected to include them all. Remember, you have just one side of A4 at your disposal!

  • Give a brief career history.
  • Expand on your qualifications.
  • Summarise your instruction rate.
  • Cite reported cases in which you have acted as an expert witness.
  • Give an indication of your fees.
  • Expand on your expertise.
  • List any major publications.

No charge is made for storing additional information of this kind on our database or for supplying it on demand to the solicitors who subscribe to the Register. It is important, though, that your profile sheet should look professional. If you do not have the means yourself to produce one that is sufficiently smart, we will be happy to lay it out for you at an hourly rate of 15. Please telephone me on (01638) 561590 if you require this help.

I very much hope that we may be able to add ‘Profile available from the publisher’ to your entry in the 9th edition of the Register.

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Nota bene
We at J S Publications are always looking for ways of enhancing the service offered by the UK Register of Expert Witnesses – both to you as a listed expert and to the many solicitors who use the Register. Our newest project of this kind involves circulating to litigation lawyers vital kernals of information on familiar topics which may be useful to them when considering how to approach a particular case. but which would be difficult for them to come by without first referring to specialist or technical publications. The best sort of Nota will alert the solicitor to a particular aspect of a case which might not be immediately obvious but which could be the one on which the result turns.

The information will be distributed in the form of cards which we plan to mail to our subscribers at regular intervals. The general form of the card can be gauged from the fictitious mock-up shown along side, each ‘note’ being between 20 and 50 words long.

If you feel able to contribute any information to this project, please send or fax your ‘note’ to J S Publications marked for my attention. The solicitors stand to benefit from the information you provide, as a contributor you would benefit from having your name and Register number shown on the card, and we both benefit from the increased market awareness of the Register that the distribution of the cards will engender.

Chris Pamplin

Card 1

Drink Driving

  • The Intoximeter is designed to recognise and compensate for acetone in the breath, which absorbs light at the same frequency as alcohol. However, methane, which demonstrates the same absorption pattern, is far more commonly present in breath and is not recognised by the equipment.
    Dr John Smith PhD FRCPath CChem No.123

  • The Intoximeter is only an approved instrument if it is functioning correctly. However, functioning correctly covers the entire machine. If the clock, which plays no part in the analysis, is wrong, then the machine ceases to be an approved instrument and its evidence is not admissible.
    Dr Susan Jackson PhD MCB CChem No.789

  • The Intoximeter readings can be challenged on the basis that the readings are too different. How different? Government scientists say that a 20% difference is acceptable because the equipment is measuring two different breath samples. However, the new Intoximeter aborts the analysis if the readings are more than 15% apart.
    Dr John Jones PhD FIBiol No.456

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Disclaimer
The information contained in Your Witness is supplied for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Neither J S Publications nor the authors accept responsibility for any loss that may arise from reliance on information contained herein. You should always consult a suitably qualified adviser on any specific problem or matter.
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