Could You Be An Expert Witness?

It is a core requirement of PCA membership that surveyors should be appropriately qualified to offer expert advice to their clients. We have a range of examination-based qualifications that cover most of our sector groups and we encourage life-long learning so that your experience and skills, can result in further recognition and reward (e.g. CABE Fellowship, BASIS register etc.).

So, could you be an expert witness?

Does this mean you are qualified to be an expert witness in a court case? The answer is possibly, but there are lots of potential pit-falls along the way that you need to be aware of:

1. Contractor, Independent Surveyor or Consultant

First and foremost you need to think about your credibility as an independent witness/expert. If you are a surveyor in, or owner of, a contracting business the court might question your perspective and assume some degree of bias. This might seem a bit unfair as it assumes a negative (vested interests) rather than a positive (professional integrity) but you should, at the very least, anticipate your independence being questioned.

2. Specialist knowledge needed to prepare reports for Court

An Independent Surveyor might assume they can act free from bias, but there are a number of special skills required to give advice in legal proceedings. Many of our members are listed as ‘Consultants’ as they have demonstrated their competence as follows: “A consultant member is a professional who is deemed to have the ability to act as a witness – or joint witness – in litigation cases and are able to produce CPR 35 compliant reports in accordance with civil procedures”.

The PCA is very clear on this matter. When asked for advice regarding a member who can act as ‘Expert witness’, we always recommend a Consultant member.

3. Prejudicial bias

Even a Consultant member may have to ask themselves whether there are any reasons why they can’t act for the prospective client. The list is fairly long but the most obvious one is “do they know the parties involved and if so could this prejudice their opinion”? They may have worked for a manufacturing member 10 years ago and supplied e.g. the defendant so a historical relationship exists, which at the very least, needs to be declared early on in proceedings….

4. The risks

This short blog is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all the factors affecting witnesses in court cases, but if you are thinking of taking-on this role you should assume that your ability as an expert will be called in to question. Barristers are trained to find weaknesses and wear you down. You should be prepared for a lengthy and uncomfortable onslaught.

Are you certain/sure of your diagnosis? Can you support it with scientifically robust arguments, backed-up by evidence rather than opinion etc? Should your evidence be found to be lacking in quality, your client could hold you liable for costs. In a worst-case scenario of fraud the court is likely to prosecute and there have been a few well-publicised cases recently, which you can read about here, here and here!

We hope the above doesn’t seem too alarmist. Many civil cases are brought and never get to court in which case, the status/role of expert witnesses may be less demanding. But if you’ve watched any TV court room dramas lately you should be in no doubt that legal proceedings are always much, much more complicated than you might imagine!

Interested in being an Expert Witness? We can help

Overall we advocate caution in all situations where any advice you give may be used in litigation. If you are interested in finding out more, the PCA can help. Our ‘Writing Expert Reports’ and ‘Meeting of Experts’ courses (for PCA Members Only) come highly recommended. Contact Jo in our training team on jo@property-care.org for more information.

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More information and previous Hodgson Views: