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Accreditation for the Expert: A Good Idea or Not Such a Good Idea?

Medico Legal

by Alec Samuels

Accreditation sounds to be a good idea. On his CV the expert can show his competence, assured by an institution of standing. The solicitor and the lay client instructing him can have confidence in him. He can be readily found, as he will appear in the appropriate directory. Anyone searching for an expert need not rely on self-advertisement but a reliable independent source.

The EU is working on the creation of a directory. The Expert Witness Institute EWI in conjunction with the Institute of Judicial Administration at University College London is working on a new accreditation scheme, led by EWI Governor Dr Sandy Mackay, an architecture and construction expert. The scheme is based on assessment, for the more experienced expert, not training for the less experienced expert. The assessment is looking for the knowledge and awareness and understanding of best practice, e.g. meeting the lay client, writing reports, knowledge of the GDPR, interplay at meetings, working with the lawyers, working with the other experts in the case, understanding the forensic court scene, giving evidence, handling cross-examination.


However, many experts, solicitors, clients and others have reservations about accreditation and directories. The good expert learns by forensic experience, not yet another classroom experience. The assessment exercise inevitably takes considerable time, trouble and expense for all involved. The public are suspicious of directories; and directories can become stale, out of date. The CV of the expert should anyway fully and accurately show his qualifications and experience, without the need for accreditation. Most solicitors and clients choose their expert by reputation, or having instructed the expert previously, or having seen him perform, or by judicial comments in previous cases, or by his contributions to the specialist literature, or by recommendations from a reliable source. The duty of the solicitor, and the mark of a good solicitor, is to know the good expert, or to know how and where to find him, how initially to assess the expert before instructing him, how to establish a good working relationship, how to assess suitability for each stage of the process, how to gain the confidence of the expert, and the willingness of the expert to be instructed by that solicitor.

The client himself may be something of an expert, e.g. a builder or engineer familiar with the technical side of matters, and be technically useful. The client may know an expert and recommend him, but the solicitor must bring an independent assessment to bear in light of the nature of the case.

Many experts of standing positively refuse to be entered into directories, preferring to rely upon their reputation. They do not need to seek work, they are busy anyway, because they are known to be good; and they dislike self-advertisement.

There have been several moves towards accreditation in recent years, with mixed success. It will be interesting to see whether current well-intentioned efforts to promote accreditation can succeed and prove their worth.

© Alec Samuels 2018

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