Almost four in ten expert witnesses do not believe that government plans to introduce compulsory accreditation for expert witnesses in whiplash cases will raise standards, a survey has found.
The survey of 186 experts by witness training company Bond Solon found that 39% thought the scheme would not raise standards, compared to 35% who thought it would. Around a quarter said they did not know.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has said that implementation of the accreditation scheme, originally due by the end of this year, will not take place until after the arrival early next year of a compulsory portal, currently known as MedCo, through which lawyers must obtain medical reports.
The survey also found that 30% of experts had been “asked to or felt pressurised to” change their reports in a way that damaged their impartiality.
Researchers said: “Witnesses’ experiences ranged from being asked to remove sections of reports which were seen as damaging to the client’s case to being asked to rewrite in their favour.
“Other experts said some solicitors had even refused to pay them if they felt they had written an ‘unhelpful’ report.”
One expert told Bond Solon: “A leading firm of solicitors tried to pressurise me on more than one occasion as the client didn’t like my conclusions.” Another said: “Solicitors were asking for the report to be changed materially to the client’s advantage. Other solicitors were asking for quoted GP notes entries to be changed. I always refused.”
Another expert described how, in a case of “overt bullying”, a solicitor had threatened that failing to follow instructions could result in a wasted costs order. A further complaint was of a lawyer asking for a client’s medical history to be changed.
Not surprisingly, nearly half of experts, 45%, said they had encountered what they believed to be “hired guns” in the industry. Some 54% said they had never encountered this.
Almost half of the expert witnesses who took part in the survey, 44%, said there was a need for better regulation of the sector; 39% disagreed.
The survey found that the average hourly rate for report writing increased slightly this year, from £174 to £177. The highest hourly average rate rose from £480 to £500.
Exactly half of experts said the number of their instructions had increased this year, with 32% saying they had stayed the same and 17% that they had gone down.