Considerations When Engaging a Forensic Expert Witness

While forensic expert witnesses are by no means necessary in all criminal or civil cases, the additional scientific rigour they offer can be highly advantageous, especially where complicating factors, insufficient evidence, or significant disputes exist. For anyone contemplating engaging the services of a forensic expert witness, whether in the area of psychiatry, psychology, dentistry, medicine, or any other domain, navigating the process can be both confusing and time-consuming. This does not have to be the case, however, with an understanding of when to consult a forensic witness and what to look for when you do.

Why engage a forensic expert witness?

Forensics experts are ultimately focused on the finest of details and hence can make all the difference when it comes to cases that need to be stitched together to present a clear and robust case. Take the discipline of forensic psychology, for example; when attempting to provide a motive, it may not always be obvious why a crime has been committed. A forensic psychologist has the skills and experience to create a detailed profile of the accused based on interviews, family background, previous offending, life traumas, and a robust understanding of how these factors impact the psychological makeup of a person.

Forensic specialists are not just focused on the minutiae; a core part of their role is to translate often highly complex technical and seemingly disconnected details in a way that is easily digestible when presented in court.

forensic expert witness

Considerations when looking for a suitable forensic expert witness

When it comes to drafting forensic witness reports and giving testimony in court, qualifications and expertise is essential. Given the often complex nature of cases, forensic experts are asked to investigate, having the ability to think laterally and beyond the obvious is also key. It is experience that allows a forensic expert to determine the most likely hypotheses in a case, test them scientifically, and present evidence that will lead to a successful case outcome.

The outcome of not selecting forensic experts with suitable qualifications and expertise was observed in the high profile Libor rigging hearings in the Appeal Court in 2017. At the time, Lord Justice Gross warned the prosecutors for the SFO that their choice of forensic expertise was “a debacle”. Lord Gross stated, “We take a very serious view of what in the judgment we will describe as a debacle, whatever the outcome…We want to know how did it come about that he was instructed when he lacked expertise? We are very concerned as to how he can have been instructed, the due diligence, and how it came to light…We are troubled by it”.

The challenge for those seeking a suitably qualified and experienced forensic expert witness is finding suitable candidates. For this reason, consider using the services of an expert witness service with an existing network of contacts and internal expertise to take on your case. Not only do they understand the level of expertise and qualifications needed to undertake proper scientific analysis, but they will also only use forensic experts capable of drafting highly persuasive evidence reports and presenting their evidence clearly in court. Forensic expert witnesses should also have the professional stature needed to recommend how the court should proceed and the level of sentencing if the accused is found guilty.

Streamlined Forensic Reporting (SFR)

If using a forensic expert, another consideration is the use of Streamlined Forensic Reporting (SFR). As the Ministry of Justice put it, “the Criminal Procedure Rules give courts explicit powers to actively manage the preparation of criminal cases waiting to be heard, to get rid of unfair and avoidable delays”. Furthermore, part 1 of the criminal procedure rules state that criminal cases must be dealt with justly; this includes “dealing with the case efficiently and expeditiously”. SFR is one of the tools available to reduce the time needed to take cases through the court process in a timely manner where detailed forensics are needed, as it allows for the preparation of a short forensic report early in proceedings (i.e. pre-trial), allowing key forensic evidence on which the prosecution intends to rely upon to be made available.

In practical terms, this means that where there is a need to engage a forensic expert witness, SFR can be used (and is actively encouraged by the courts) to bring an early resolution to a case, reduce the need for any additional unnecessary forensic analysis, and reduce legal costs.

Final words

The use of forensic expert witnesses in combination with the SFR process offers the best of both worlds. Not only does it allow the use of forensic expertise in cases that would benefit from detailed science-based testing and analysis, it means the chance of cases being discontinued is reduced, but early pleas are also more likely, and hence, the chance of a full trial being needed is reduced.

Speak to our experts

Expert Court Reports provides expert witnesses and medicolegal court reports for solicitors, barristers and other agencies, including the police, probation services, prisons, and third-sector organisations as well as private clients. To arrange an expert report related to child abuse, please call us on 01865 587865, email, or request a call by completing our online form.