Judges issues guidance to experts on remote evidence

Saville: Guidance offers wise help

A panel of top judges has issued guidance for expert witnesses on giving evidence remotely, which warns that “processing information through online contact is hard”.

The Academy of Experts’ judicial committee – led by former Supreme Court judge Lord Saville, who is also the academy’s president– has produced what he described as “clear, useful and wise help on what is a new method of giving expert evidence”.

The guidance notes that while many expert witnesses will already have experience of giving remote evidence, before Covid-19 few had done so when some or all of the other participants are also communicating via video conferencing.

It says “experience suggests” that up to 15 minutes a day may be taken up with technology problems.

The guidance recommends that experts write their reports with screen display in mind, and when giving evidence use three screens so they can easily view the trial bundle, the hearing and other documentation.

It cites advice from psychologists that “processing information through online contact is hard and even more so at the moment, due to the stresses of lockdown”, adding: “Accept that you are unlikely to have the same space in your ‘personal hard drive’ to work at the same intensity as previously.”

As has been frequently reported in recent months, the guidance says online communication is “far more demanding and tiring”, and notes that the physical cues received from others during face-to-face encounters are either not available at all online, or are “exhausting to access” if they are.

The academy’s judicial committee was formed in 1989 with the approval of the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, consisting of seven senior judges representing the English, Scottish and Northern Irish benches, with Hong Kong and Singapore added in 2003 and 2019 respectively.

Along with Lord Saville, its members are Supreme Court president Lord Reed, Lord Justice Dingemans, Mr Justice Harris (Hong Kong High Court), Mr Justice Horner (Northern Ireland High Court), Sir Rupert Jackson, Justice Quentin Loh (Supreme Court of Singapore), Mrs Justice O’Farrell, Sir Vivian Ramsey (Singapore International Commercial Court), Lady Smith (Scotland’s Court of Session) and Mr Justice Williams.

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