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J R Soc Med. 2002 November; 95(11): 576.
PMCID: PMC1279275

Expert witnesses, courts and the law

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and Ananda Hall (September 2002 JRSM1) blame medical expert witnesses for delays in reaching a settlement. They state ‘Medical experts must get their reports out in time...’. I fully agree that the time taken for complainants to get a satisfactory settlement is unacceptable, but to blame the medical professional alone is hardly fair. Let me narrate a recent, and ongoing, experience.

In November 1999 the parents of patient A approached their solicitors to lodge a complaint against their doctor on behalf of their son, who they said had been negligently treated. The solicitors approached a consultant paediatrician to see if he would act on their behalf. Having considered the relevant documents he suggested an alternative expert witness. On 28 December of the same year I was asked to act. I agreed to review the documents and write a report together with my opinion on the viability of the claim, replying on 5 January 2000. On 9 February I received a pile of photocopied notes 9 cm thick, in some chaos and not all legible. I sent my report on 25 February—hardly an unreasonable delay. On 7 April I examined the patient and sent my report on 11 April. On 18 December I was asked to agree a date for a conference with Counsel to consider the case. This, in my view, was an unreasonable delay. The date fixed was 26 February 2001. At this meeting it was agreed that junior counsel would make a further abstract of certain parts of the notes. By the middle of April this had not taken place. I therefore made the necessary abstraction and sent this to the solicitors on 25 April. In August I was asked to attend a video conference which took place at the end of the month. At this I pointed out to the solicitors that they had already lost one of their medical experts through death and if the case continued to drag on they ran a real risk of losing another. I was assured that I looked healthy (nice to know). On 29 September I requested that my fees, now long overdue, be paid, and again on 10 December; payment was finally received on 17 December. I was then asked to provide a further statement in accordance with the new Civil Procedures Rule and it was suggested that a local solicitor should visit me to help with this new assignment. The meeting took place on 26 February this year and the statement was posted on 25 March. Since then there has been no obvious progress. This case has now dragged on for two years and nine months since I was first approached and the delays have all been on the part of the complainant's legal team or the defence.

References

1. Butler-Sloss E, Hall A. Expert witnesses, courts and the law. J R Soc Med 2002;95: 431-4 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press