As announced earlier this year, the FFLM has appointed Professor Keith Rix as its Expert Witness Lead. This is a position recommended for all of the medical royal colleges and faculties in the Final Report by Mr Justice Williams (Sir David Williams) of a ‘Working Group on Medical Experts in the Family Courts’ set up by the Family Justice Council. Although the working group was set up in response to a “paucity of medical expert witnesses in family cases involving children” and no reference is made specifically to a shortage of forensic clinicians, the Faculty has recognised that the implementation of many of the Working Group’s recommendations will benefit not just the family courts but all of the jurisdictions in which health professionals (i.e. both medical and other health professionals) assist with expert medical evidence and it has recognised that many of the recommendations are of relevance to FFLM members who act as expert witnesses. Although the term ‘medical experts’ is used in the title of the report, its content explicitly relates not only to medical professionals but also to what are termed ‘allied health professionals’ and ‘other health colleagues’.
One of the problems identified by the Working Group was a lack of support and training for expert medical witnesses and a need to increase awareness of existing training and create online resources to support expert witness work. It specifically recommended the creation of “greater training opportunities for medical professionals … including mini-pupillages with judges, cross-disciplinary training courses with medical and legal professionals, and mentoring, peer review and feedback opportunities”. The Faculty already provides some of these training opportunities.
The Faculty envisages that the role of the Expert Witness Lead will be to:
- Support Faculty members who are, or are available to be, engaged as medical experts in courts and tribunals, whether they be doctors, nurses or paramedics;
- Promote the further provision by the Faculty of training that will assist members in the development of their practice as expert witnesses;
- Increase Faculty members’ awareness of existing training outside the Faculty (such as that provided by the Academy of Experts, the Expert Witness Institute, the Royal Society of Medicine, other medical royal colleges and faculties, and universities and colleges);
- Encourage the use of case-based discussions (for peer review of medicolegal reports) and multisource assessment of expert witness practice so as to ensure that personal development plans address medical expert witness practice.
Keith advised that he already exercises quite informally a similar role with a group of psychiatrists engaged in expert witness work. About once a month he emails them with summaries of recent court judgments of interest to expert witnesses in general and psychiatrists in particular, he draws attention, and provides links, to relevant publications (like the Williams report), advises as to significant changes in court procedure rules, such as the Criminal Procedure Rules, and promotes discussion or comment on issues raised by members of the group, which sometimes leads to the identification by group members of particular research papers and reports. He also corresponds on an individual and confidential basis with group members who have particular queries or who find themselves in some difficulty for which they need support. He suggests that this model could be adopted for the Faculty. Keith has also developed systems for peer review of expert witness work and multisource assessment of expert witness practice which could be adopted and/or adapted by members engaged in expert witness work.
As a result of the earlier announcement there now exists a group of FFLM members who are engaged in expert witness work and FFLM members who are barristers or QCs. Keith has already sent out monthly bulletins to the group, promoting discussion about some topical expert witness issues and drawing attention to recent court judgments relevant to expert forensic medical practice.
If you would like to join the group or have comments or suggestions to make about medical expert witness work by FFLM members, please email the FFLM FAO Keith Rix at firstname.lastname@example.org.