What does an expert witness do?
If you are called upon to act as an expert witness, you will typically be asked to give opinions on facts provided by others and you will be expected to be entirely independent and impartial.
- You should never have treated the patient in the past, and should not treat them in the future.
- You should not act as an expert witness in the same case in which you are, or might be called upon to be, a professional witness.
Those who might request you to act as an expert witness include:
- patients' representatives, such as solicitors
- other dental professionals, or their representatives
- the police
- insurance companies
- the General Dental Council (GDC).
You can become an expert witness by request from a third party and by choice, and you must be independent.
There is no obligation to act as an expert but, once instructions have been accepted, there is a duty to act until the case is concluded.
You may be asked to give an opinion in written or oral form, based on the facts of the case, on questions of:
- current condition and prognosis
- breach of duty (in negligence cases)
- causation, ie whether or not an alleged injury, loss or damage was caused by the event about which the patient is complaining.
This may involve examining the patient and/or reviewing the dental records made by other dental professionals.
The expert's duty to the court overrides the contractual obligation to the person instructing them.
In a court hearing, expert witnesses may listen to the evidence of other witnesses before giving evidence themselves.
Criminal vs civil
- Are you clear about the basis of your instructions? Are you being approached as a witness to fact, or an expert witness?
- What is the legal basis upon which questions of breach of duty and causation are determined?
- Do you have sufficient experience so that you are properly qualified to speak about the particular area of dental practice on which you have been asked to give evidence?
- Have you checked that you do not have a conflict of interest in providing a report, for example have you been instructed by another party, or has the patient been treated at your practice, even by a colleague?
- Are you sure you can comply with the deadlines requested? A delay in reporting may prejudice a case and may leave you open to criticism from the court and/or the GDC.
Seek DDU advice if you need to write a report or give evidence as an expert witness.
This guidance was correct at publication 18/01/2018. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.