Justice for Sale? Panorama investigates expert witnesses

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At 19.30 tonight Panorama will show their undercover investigation into expert witnesses which ‘found experts in handwriting, CCTV analysis and animal behaviour prepared to help clients hide the truth in breach of their professional obligations.’

Expert witnesses are bound by ethical duties and legal rules, which state their reports should be independent and impartial. Their reports should include all relevant information provided by the client. Four of the expert witnesses Panorama approached were caught on camera flouting the rules.

Simon Jelf, Barrister and Bond Solon Expert Witness Trainer said "We are dismayed at these findings. The two most important qualities of an expert witness are honesty and objectivity. Credibility is everything, with the overriding duty of the expert being to the court. This again highlights the importance and significance of proper expert witness training."

View the programme on iPlayer (after 19.30 on 9 June)

Read the BBC news article: Expert court witnesses ‘ignored clients’ guilt’

P.S Please click here to listen to the views of leading barrister Michael Mansfield QC, who highlights the importance of receiving formal training.

A few of the expert witnesses gave us their thoughts on the programme:

“Why is anyone so surprised at all this. We all know this has been going on. Despite the "duty to the court" we all know that some experts are often quite partisan! So nothing new here although the cases televised were blatant to say the least.”

“Very interesting. However I thought it was not up to the usual Panorama standards. They seemed to be scraping the barrel for some bad guys. I wonder who else they targeted who turned out to be honest and therefore not worth broadcasting? One doctor criticised but not in detail. Not sure I was much the wiser about the honesty of the mass of experts by the end of it.”

“To me as a viewer it seemed that the subjects of the investigations were self-appointed experts who are not members of recognised professional bodies which demand higher professional and ethical standards, based on both qualification and experience, with the penalty of being drummed out of the profession for such conduct.”

“As a medical expert witness, the neurology case held the most interest for me. The Panorama programme just skated over this in a typically unthorough way and then kicked it firmly into the long grass, just leaving a faintly bitter taste. As far as I could see there was an evidential conflict between what the client (patient) claimed she said had happened (about her blackout) and what the neurologist was alleged to have recorded in his report.

I get over this by writing my Chronology first from all the documentation and the clinical consultation.. I then send it to the solicitor and ask him to check it for factual accuracy and also to go through it with the client. I don’t issue any opinions until I have been assured that all three of us are agreed upon the facts. This safeguard has not failed me yet!”

“I watched with interest what was a rather disturbing program. I say disturbing because not only of the content, (particularly that one expert was prepared to lie in court) , but more than manner in which it was conducted and presented. I think ‘biased' and ’News of the World’ leap rapidly to mind. Not to mention entrapment. I would hope none of us are naive enough to believe the system is perfect, we can all name the names of those who produce reports favourable to the client and cheque book rather that the court. Personally I think such people should be struck off and prosecuted. I am fully aware of a number of ‘potential clients’ who no longer instruct me because I refuse to do so or refuse to weight reports more favourably to their cause, it is work I can do without. I am perhaps most concerned that this program and its content was released by the BBC (the establishments tool) at a time when the whole process is under attack with changes to court rules, fees and legal aid being targeted by Government. Interesting that at the same time this is aired new proposal to increase Magistrates power are announced, fines for speeding to triple to £10,000 etc. In my current work I see many police reports, the content and quality and impartiality of which have fallen dramatically in the last few years, bias to prosecution only rather than investigation. The with holding of evidence is rampant within the CPS. Is it a conspiracy to cut cost by simply making any defence by mister average beyond his reach and simply to plead guilty at first hearing as the best cost saving. Are we really entering a Police style state, I am afraid I think we are.” – Mike Natt, Collision Investigation

“None of these named experts on the programme were acting under instruction of a solicitor. Except in extremely rare cases, all experts operating in the UK should only be capable of giving evidence under instruction of a solicitor. Two, (the graphologist and CCTV expert) were not even registered in the UK Register (Pamplin).(The most basic requirement). What is of far greater concern, (since the demise of the FSS) is the situation of the prosecution experts, where experts are hidden from scrutiny under the guise of accreditation of the parent organisation, and do not have to submit detailed CV's to the Court, or be required to gain admission to Professional and Expert Witness Organisations to which poor performance can be referred. See the Institute of Explosive Engineers March 2014 page 37. The recent application to hold terrorist trials in secret is possibly notable, as then independent experts without security clearance could no longer be used by the defence.”

“The TV programme did make a reasonable case that some experts are “guns for hire”. Transparency International’s survey found that 1 person in 5 who had used E&W courts agreed that they had paid a bribe. As only two cases (to my knowledge) have been prosecuted, fees to partisan experts might account for a few more. Panorama referred to the Sally Clark case as “having discredited experts”. This was not the view of paediatric experts at the SEW conference couple of years back. The appeal succeeded on the grounds that the expert had not remarked on possible contaminants. While this established reasonable doubt, most experts thought that it was not significant evidence and the facts were unaltered. (Sally Clark after being acquitted went on to die from alcohol-related poisoning.)” - Ed Conduit, Clinical Psychologist.