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Experts worry about rise of ‘hired gun’

Solon: lawyers need reminding of the rules

Solon: lawyers need reminding of the rules

Nearly half of experts have come across a counterpart they consider to be a ‘hired gun’, willing to give an opinion that helps the side paying them, according to a survey.

The poll of 779 experts also found that half of those who had considered giving up as an expert in the last year cited the pay they received.

Carried out by expert witness training company Bond Solon and The Times newspaper, the survey said 46% of experts had come across ‘hired guns’, while 31% felt pressured by lawyers to change their report in a way that damaged impartiality.

Bond Solon founder Mark Solon said: “They gave examples, some of which were overt but others that suggested they would not get further work or would not be paid. Clearly lawyers need reminding of the rules and judges need to keep a careful eye out for bias.”

Just over a quarter (27%) of those surveyed said they had considered giving up expert work, with pay levels the main concern (51%), followed by time constraints, the risk of being sued in contract or for negligence, and the risk of disciplinary proceedings by their professional body – the last a concern that has grown in the light of the problems faced by experts in emerging fields of science, such as shaken baby syndrome.

Mr Solon said: “There have been many cuts to legal aid over the past few years and since the Jackson reforms have introduced proportionality for costs, expert’s fees have been reduced. One must remember that expert work is for most experts a secondary source of income as they have the day job working in their professional field.

“If fees are two low, the best experts will not bother to get out of bed and will refuse to take on the work. Only those who are willing to work for the lower rates will take it on. Jackson also introduced much tighter court controlled time limits that can be difficult for professionals to comply with.”

In other results, a quarter of experts doubted that judges were able to understand technical expert evidence, a figure that rose to 59% for juries.

A separate survey of experts [1] released last week by the Expert Witness Institute found that experts giving evidence concurrently – known as ‘hot tubbing’ – was assisting the courts and reducing costs.