Expert witness survey results

New British Psychological Society report.

A new survey of British Psychological Society members who work as expert witnesses in the civil and criminal courts has found that less than two thirds report receiving specific training. The report concludes: ‘This is remarkable given the challenging environment and complexity of working as an expert witness in adversarial settings.’  

In January of this year the Expert Witness Advisory Group (EWAG), an advisory group of the Professional Practice Board and Research Board, launched the survey to gain a better understanding of the experiences of psychologists working as expert witnesses, and how to support their work. Of the 58 respondents, almost two thirds were clinical psychologists, the majority working as expert witnesses alongside their practice/academic duties. The EWAG identified four key points from the survey results: 

  • Training and knowledge: Respondents identified specialist knowledge, appropriate qualifications, and experience since qualifying as crucial; yet more than a third had received no specific training. The report recommends taking up appropriate Society training and guidance.
  • Access to experts and the impact on vulnerable people: New Civil and Family Procedure Rules have resulted in changes to the instruction of expert witnesses, including capped fees and revised timescales. A quarter of survey respondents indicated that such changes had affected whether they took on legal aid funded work.
  • Conflict with professionals and experts: Perhaps surprisingly, respondents rated the report being scientifically precise as the least important aspect of expert witness work. Over two thirds of survey respondents felt it was important to give a range of opinion within their reports. Half admitted there had been occasions when they had been asked to change their opinions or conclusions of their report by the person who had instructed them. A third reported having experienced behaviour of another practitioner psychologist that  made them question the conduct or quality of that psychologist’s evidence.
  • Expert witness feedback: A little over half of respondents indicated they never or seldom receive feedback on their work. This, the report concludes, ‘limits the extent to which the psychologist expert witness can reflect, change and develop their skills for future court work’.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Professor Leam Craig said: ‘There is wide agreement that a good expert witness report provides an objective assessment, refers to the scientific evidence base and provides an analysis of the issues. The Advisory Group would add that a competent and experienced psychologist will be able to identify and address the main issues, analyse and synthesise core information, present that information in answering instructions and deal with challenging questions under cross-examination.’

- Read a copy of the full report and survey data.

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