The admissibility of expert witnesses within UK law has recently been called into question because of a number of extraordinary cases in which their evidence has been shown to be false. There are a number of famous cases, such as R. v Dallagher, in which a man was convicted of murder on the basis of an 'ear print' left at a scene, only to be released from seven years later when the efficacy and reliability of that evidence was brought into question.
The battle of dueling experts has become somewhat counterproductive, with the reputations and persuasiveness of the experts involved becoming more important than the objective evidence they can provide.
It is now possible to join The Society of Expert Witnesses in the UK. The motto of the organization, quisque ad praestantiam nitens is, ironically, translated with a lack of expertise to "each towards excellence striving" - when "each striving towards excellence" is surely the correct wording in modern English. The Society was only founded in 1995, but the Latin motto shows that it is attempting to suggest that it is somehow an established part of the legal system rather than a relative newcomer. Of course brevity of existence is no judgment of quality, but the attempt to create the sense of history that does not exist perhaps is.
The definition of an expert witness has gone through a long development. Formal education in a subject is not necessarily needed, as was established as early as R. v. Silverlock (1894), in which a solicitor who had studied handwriting for more than ten years was accepted as an expert even though he had no formal training in the subject. R. V. Robb (1991) established a similar principle and qualified it through saying that the finder of fact (Judge or Jury) should be the one that decides how much weight to give to it. Thus the degree of "expertise" (or otherwise) shown by the expert witness should be decided by the finder of fact.
The Society gives a succinct description of both expert and expert witness on its welcome page on the Internet. While these are not formal definitions found within the law, they are at least a starting point for the consideration of contributors to the trial whose role is somewhat uncertain. There is no comprehensive definition of "expert witness", so the Society may well be a help in studying such:
An expert is anyone with knowledge or experience of a particular
field of discipline beyond what is expected of a layman.
An expert witness is an expert who makes his or her knowledge
available to a court (or other judicial or quasi-judicial body) to
help it understand the issues of a case and reach a sound and just
The definition of expert would seem to be extraordinarily broad, and would include large segments of the population within an increasingly specialized society. No mention is made of educational qualifications, let alone the graduate degrees that might be expected for one who calls herself an expert. The Society seems to be attempting to have as broad a definition as possible for "expert", which is logical as its first listed aim is to assist "members in running their expert witness business by any suitable means."2
The fact that being an expert witness can now become a full time source of self-employment may be starkly contrasted to the early days of expert witnesses in the early to mid Twentieth Century, when they were experts within their fields (often scientific or forensic in ...
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