Monday 22 January 2018

Calls for new laws on expert witnesses

Under the proposals, the duties of expert witnesses to be truthful, independent and impartial would be enshrined in legislation. Stock picture
Under the proposals, the duties of expert witnesses to be truthful, independent and impartial would be enshrined in legislation. Stock picture
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

New laws to ensure expert witnesses do not become "hired guns", giving evidence that only suits one side in a case, have been proposed by The Law Reform Commission.

The Commission wants legislation setting out the duties of such witnesses amid concerns some may be consciously or unconsciously biased towards the party which hires them to give evidence.

The proposals come amid concern fees charged by expert witnesses may be inflating costs in personal injury cases.

Under the proposals, the duties of expert witnesses to be truthful, independent and impartial would be enshrined in legislation.

In a report published today, the commission recommends that if an expert fails to comply with these duties, a court can rule the evidence inadmissible.

It has also recommended that the immunity of an expert witness from being sued should be abolished and replaced with a statutory provision that an expert can be sued if the evidence is given in a grossly negligent manner.

"Experts do not always recognise their duties and even where they recognise them might not discharge them. An expert may sometimes see their role as being to support the instructing party's arguments and contradict the evidence of experts for the other side," the report said.

"The fact that the expert is paid for testimony has fuelled the view of expert evidence as a service or commodity. Even the honest witness may feel an obligation to be of use to his or her paymaster."

Irish Independent

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