What does an expert witness do?
- If you're called on to act as an expert witness, you will typically be asked to give opinions on facts provided by others.
- 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 where you are, or might be called upon to be, a professional witness.
Who can ask you to act as an expert 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, but you must be independent either way. The expert's duty to the court or tribunal overrides the contractual obligation to the person instructing them.
You're under no obligation to act as an expert, but once you have accepted instructions, you have a duty to act until the case is concluded.
You might be asked to give your opinion in writing or verbally, and it must be based on the facts of the case. You could be asked about:
- current condition and prognosis
- breach of duty (in negligence cases)
- if the care fell seriously below the standard expected (in GDC cases)
- causation (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 dental records made by other dental professionals.
In a court hearing, expert witnesses can 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 the experience to be properly qualified to speak about the particular area of dental practice you've been asked about?
- Have you checked you don't 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.
If you're a DDU member and need to write a report or give evidence as an expert witness, you can ask the DDU for advice.
This page was correct at publication on 24/08/2022. Any guidance 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.