The expert witness: professional practice and pitfalls

Authored by: Nicola Gray , Tegwn Williams

Handbook of Forensic Mental Health

Print publication date:  March  2008
Online publication date:  August  2012

Print ISBN: 9781843922629
eBook ISBN: 9780203118276
Adobe ISBN: 9781136308802


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Being an expert witness can be a daunting task, particularly for clinicians who have little experience of such work. The court process in the UK is adversarial and health professionals are not used to having their clinical opinion challenged or their professional qualifications and competencies scrutinised. However, engaging in expert witness work can be highly rewarding and professionals often feel that they have ‘made a difference’ either to the case or to society more generally. The aim of this chapter is to provide a brief overview of the process of being an expert witness that can serve as guidance for those who wish to engage in such work. Being committed to evidence-based practice we would wish to ground our advice and guidance within the research literature and to review research findings. However, little such research exists. There is a body of research on issues pertinent to the judicial process, for example how juries make decisions and the validity of eyewitness testimony, etc., but these issues are not what expert witnesses want to know about when embarking on the new (or relatively new) task of being an expert within the courts. For this reason we have decided that it is not possible to provide a review of research and have instead endeavoured to try to distil our years of experience (and that of a number of other professionals) of being expert witnesses into a brief, but we hope comprehensive, summary of the issues and possible pitfalls involved in such work. It must be remembered that in legal proceedings, lawyers are in charge and may use experts for their own ends which may not be what the experts expect or intend.

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