In a groundbreaking decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that an expert witness who is negligent in respect of their work can be sued. Until the decision, the rule was that experts were immune from being sued for negligence in relation to evidence given in civil proceedings.
The case involved a consultant psychiatrist who had been instructed by a claimant to prepare an expert psychological report as evidence in a dispute. The expert later signed a joint report prepared by another expert who had been instructed by the other side. She claimed that the joint report did not reflect her views and that she had signed it ‘under pressure’. As the report contained findings damaging to the claimant, the claim was settled for considerably less than would have been the case had the expert not put her signature to the joint report.
The Court could find no compelling public policy reasons to support the upholding of the immunity principle and agreed that the claim for negligence against the expert could proceed.
The decision will have a marked impact on expert witnesses and will, it is hoped, have the effect of dissuading some of the less qualified and more overtly partial expert witnesses (known as ‘hired guns’) from giving evidence.