More than 60 leading consultants, GPs and medical and legal experts came together for our annual conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on 2 December.
Giles Eyre, author, expert witness trainer and retired barrister, chaired the conference. Giles’s wealth of experience in the field of personal injury and clinical negligence was evident as he offered many pearls of wisdom throughout the day.
Legal update on the pitfalls and intricacies of expert evidence
The event kicked offered with a legal update on the pitfalls and intricacies of expert evidence from Daniel Sokol, barrister from 12 King’s Bench Walk. Daniel’s talk highlighted the importance of expert witness training and how expert evidence can win or lose a case.
Daniel’s key takeaways for writing a great report included:
- Do not misquote evidence
- Avoid ambiguity
- Give all conclusions to the legal standard
- Avoid fixed thinking and advocacy for one party
- Look to be balanced, fair and open-minded
- Ensure that your views and conclusions have been clearly and logically explained
- Do not stray beyond your remit/expertise.
Daniel’s session was followed by a panel discussion which covered how to build a strong working relationship with your lawyer and exceed their expectations. The panel included Paul Sankey, Partner, Enable Law; Anne Kavanagh, Partner, Irwin Mitchell; and Amy Heath, Partner, Stewarts Law.
Delegates took away a number of points, including:
- Address the legal tests correctly
- Explain the reasoning for your views
- Give evidence for your views (research, guidelines etc)
- Respond promptly
- Have a clear and reasonable charging structure (and don’t charge for every letter)
- Be nice to the client
- Manage expectations with deadlines and don’t promise what you can’t achieve.
The second panel discussion focused on ‘lessons learnt from our medical experts’. For this discussion, we welcomed Mr Colin Holburn, Emergency Medicine Consultant; Mr Simon Britten, Consultant in Trauma and Orthopaedics; Dr Peter Brunskill, Consultant Obstetrician; and Mr Mat Smith, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon.
The panel’s top takeaways were:
- Your report is everything so look after it and care for it!
- Get payment before sending the report (Ireland)
- Don’t accept payment at the end of the case instructions
- If the medical records are unusable or unsorted, send them back with instructions on how to sort them out
- Remember that you may have to be cross-examined on your opinion
- Know what you are doing and complete some medico-legal training
- The joint statement is crucial (and it can keep you out of court!)
Paul Sankey gave an insightful presentation on causation and he explained why having a clear understanding of causation is so important for an expert witness.
There is often a culture clash between lawyers and doctors when addressing causation. The medical mind is far more comfortable with giving opinions on the situation as it stands than on what the situation would have been ‘but for’ the accident. Causation reports must clearly address the ‘but for’ situation.
Fixed costs in clinical negligence
Ian Cohen, solicitor and founder of The Cohen Consultancy, explained the implications of fixed costs in clinical negligence and personal injury claims, especially relating to the proposal to limit experts’ fees. Such financial restrictions will serve only to obstruct those seeking to bring clinical negligence claims, as value does not equate to complexity in these investigations.
Ian urged experts to join the call for the Government to invest in training to improve patient safety rather than restrict the ability of those suffering clinical negligence to seek redress.
Confidence in the courtroom
Giles Eyre provided an invaluable presentation on confidence in the courtroom. It was helpful to learn more about how the judge evaluates expert evidence, the aim of cross-examination, useful techniques for dealing with cross-examination and how to manage concurrent evidence (hot tubbing).
Our consent workshop proved popular – although this session would have been worthy of its own event as there was so much to discuss (keep an eye on our website for details of our upcoming consent masterclass).
Mr Simon Britten, Consultant in Trauma and Orthopaedics, and Paul Sankey, Solicitor and Partner at Enable Law, discussed a clinical scenario from Simon’s practice. Common misunderstandings about consent were discussed and the overriding message was that consent is a process and it starts at the first consultation.
Learning from litigation
Sean Docherty, Risk Management Solicitor from DAC Beachcroft, provided a thought-provoking presentation on learning from litigation. It was interesting to hear some of the headline figures from NHS Resolution in terms of claims, reported incidents and payments. Clinical negligence claims clearly need to be embedded in an organisation across the legal, complaints, patient safety and clinical teams up to Board level.
A thought-provoking day
It was great to be able to hold a full face-to-face conference for the first time in three years since the pandemic started. We were thrilled to see new experts and some familiar faces – including delegates who have completed our two-day expert witness training previously.
One delegate said: “Inspire MediLaw’s conferences are particularly focused on the practical aspects of expert witness work. It is great to have teaching and advice on aspects that you use daily in your work. This is a particular advantage over the other conferences.”
As we start to plan for next year’s annual conference, we’d very much like to hear your suggestions for our programme for the day. Please email our MD, Caren Scott, with any feedback or ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in taking part in our expert witness training? Our next training will take place from 27-28 April. Learn more.