Expert witnesses to get court training

Picture: Ian Rutherford

Picture: Ian Rutherford

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IT IS one of the highlights of a courtroom drama, when the cunning defence advocate tears apart the prosecution case, often leaving an expert stuttering in the witness box.

From Rumpole Of The Bailey to Kavanagh QC, they have all enjoyed flexing their superior debating muscles against scientists more at home in the laboratory.

But their real-life equivalents are now stepping in with a helping hand. Scotland’s Faculty of Advocates is for the first time offering to train experts on how to present their evidence.

The Faculty says it wants to help expert witnesses give the clearest possible evidence, in the interests of justice and so evidence is properly tested.

David Parratt QC, who is running the training courses, said: “If experts are indeed playing to lawyers and juries, and they are indeed in a theatre, shouldn’t they get some instructions on the rules of the game.

“We have ascertained the demand for this and we have trialled workshops and seminars which can educate the experts in a particular field, to assist them in giving evidence in court.

“The proceedings are filmed, and thereafter the expert is given the opportunity of a video review, with a third counsel looking at performance and discussing possible improvements.”

Professor Fiona Raitt, an expert in evidence and social justice, has previously raised concerns about the role that expert witnesses play in Scottish justice.

Raitt said: “I don’t think there’s any problem in helping people give the best evidence of which they are capable.

“The people who are least capable of managing the formalities of the courtroom are the ones who are not allowed to learn the tricks of the trade. I believe they should be [taught], as long as you are not training them to present particular evidence in a particular way.

“I don’t see a problem in explaining to people: these are the questions you will be asked, this is the likelihood you will be asked that.”

Victims campaigners backed training for expert witnesses.

David Sinclair, of Victim Support Scotland, said: “Some expert witnesses talk in a language that a person, whether they are a jury, victim, or even a barrister or judge, struggles to grasp.

“Justice not only has to be done, but has to be seen to be done, and for that it has to be understood.”

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