Open books in a library

What makes experts expert?

Infamously, Michael Gove declared, we Britons, “have had enough of experts”.

That was Brexit. A soundbite that bought votes.  But maybe even the unpleasant gnomic Gove speaks the truth sometimes.

Over 30 years of practise in the Personal Injury business I can say with certainty few clients ever – and I mean, ever – respond to an expert medical report with a positive endorsement.  Almost no one has said: yes, that reflects what I think happened to me, and makes clear what will happen to me in the future.

The simple answer to this is to say to me: the job of the expert is to provide an independent opinion, not to offer the Claimant tea and sympathy.

And that would – of course – be right.  An expert is independent.   He or she will give their independent expert opinion, not seek to please the Claimant.

To make sense of where I’m going, I need to go back to basics, to the title of this post: what makes experts expert?

Experts are well and truly embedded in the Civil Justice process.  In any injury claim, however, small, there is an expert.  In serious injury, and high value injury claims, particularly in clinical negligence, there are lots of experts.

And then there’s the non-injury claims where experts define the terms – surveyors, architects, engineers.

And then there’s Criminal Justice and even some Family Law, where expert evidence is critical.

And then there’s more!  Tax.  Pensions.  Financial advice.  Agriculture. Trees.  Toxicity.  Hygiene.  Health and safety.  Care.  OT.  Housing.  And more, and more, and more.

When I said experts are embedded, I mean, entrenched.   They live in the legal process like sap in a tree.

As a lawyer, I can tell you, sap is sticky.

It’s not opponents, it’s not the destitute Civil Courts, it’s not Claimants’ sometimes less than truthfulness, no, it’s them, the experts, they’re the true bane.

Because, in answer to my own question – what makes experts expert? – they do.  The hired guns.  The self-appointed.

There is no fixed, agreed, defined, detailed, set, of provable qualifications that are the minimum standard for an expert being an expert.

Experts just want to be experts, get hired, do marketing, sign up to agencies, get paid (well paid).

We Britons, as Gove calls us, avoid codes, like a civil justice code, or a penal code, or a code that would define what expertise would be required by an expert to allow them to express their opinions to Judges in Courts of Law.

But we do have protocols, guidance, test cases, Civil Procedure Rules, Institutes, data-checking badges.  It goes on.  Flimflam validation schemes telling us that experts are, as they tell us, expert.

I will examine the details over time with further posts, perhaps with less comment and more explanation.

But as a brief further note on the expert problem – and, yes, there is no doubt, it – expert evidence – is a problem – I recently found myself questioning an expert with respect to his CV.  He appeared to confuse his vanity with his knowledge, as a result of which he dropped details of his Tatler 250 listing into his CV, apparently in the belief that this enhanced the quality of his expert evidence.

I did so want to hear him explain how endorsement by The Tatler made his expert evidence more persuasive.   Sadly, the case settled!