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When is an expert witness not an expert?

Author: Fiona Horlick QC, Outer Temple Chambers

Published: 29 January 2020

As we’ve discussed previously in this blog, expert witnesses should only give an opinion on matters within their own expertise. They should make clear if a particular issue falls outside such expertise. This is a key requirement of the Civil Procedure Rules and the Criminal Procedure Rules, which govern this type of work.

In a recent case, Fiona Horlick QC successfully demonstrated that an expert called by the GMC in proceedings against her client (a consultant surgeon) did not have the expertise to give a suitably qualified opinion.

Fiona represented a renowned consultant vitreoretinal surgeon who faced complex allegations in a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS)[1] hearing. The allegations concerned the consequences of vitreoretinal surgery that the surgeon had carried out. It included allegations concerning a suprachoroidal haemorrhage and carrying out a procedure that was not clinically indicated.

To support its case, the GMC called an ophthalmic surgeon. Under cross-examination by Fiona, he admitted that he was not a vitreoretinal surgeon, had never performed a vitreoretinal procedure independently and had only ever seen one minor haemorrhage in his career. He also admitted that he had no idea how to manage such an emergency and would have to refer it to a vitreoretinal surgeon. The Tribunal concluded they could not rely on any of his evidence.

This case proves the importance of only taking on instructions in areas where you have demonstrable experience.

Read more about the essential requirements for expert witness work in Paul Sankey’s blog, ‘How to be a better medical expert: 10 top tips’.

[1] Allegations brought by the GMC are heard by an MPTS tribunal. Doctors can face erasure from the Medical Register if the allegations are proven.