Expert witnesses who give questionable evidence in Court could end up being sued for compensation under the recommendations that are before the Law Reform Commission.
The proposals are to abolish the traditional assumption of immunity for expert witnesses. The Commission is considering that where the witness acts with gross negligence in its reports or evidence, they should be personally liable for any civil claims that arise as a result of such negligence.
Every year many thousands of medical, engineering, financial and other technical reports are prepared for both Plaintiff and Defendants in Court cases. The author of such reports can be required to attend Court to explain their report and observations and justify their conclusions.
Concerns have been raised at the lack of standards and regulations which has allowed too many experts to take up too much Court time with reports and evidence that either added little to the progress of the case in hand or indeed showed bias to whichever side has paid for their services.
The Commission is urged that there be pre-trial case management to distil what expert evidence is needed. The Commission has said that legislation is needed to set out the duties of experts with emphasis on the need for evidence that is “truthful, independent and impartial” and confines strictly to matters within their expertise. The proposed evidence Bill will give Judges powers to rule inadmissible any evidence from experts that fail to comply with these principles and with a statutory code of practice.
The recommendations are contained in a wide-ranging report covering all kinds of evidence prepared for or presented to the Courts. The Bill goes as far as to clarify the traditional rule against hearsay to enable verbal or documentary evidence be considered in limited circumstances, even where it is not possible to cross examine the reputed source of the evidence.
The draft legislation that is drawn up by the Law Reform Commission will therefore seek to abolish the traditional assumption of immunity for expert witnesses and says that where they act with gross negligence in the reports of testimony, they should be personally liable for any civil claims they give rise to.
This anticipated new legislation will have far reaching impact on expert witnesses and will, going forward, aim to ensure reliance on the reports furnished by such expert witnesses.
Marcella Sheehy Solicitor
Cleary & Co. Solicitors