Expert witnesses play a pivotal role in the Australian legal system, facilitating the court’s decision-making process with their specialised knowledge gained from years of experience (1). Their contribution is essential in developing an objective understanding of technical issues relevant to the case. This analytical essay will delve deep into the responsibility of expert witnesses to the court and evaluate their influence on court proceedings.
Expert Witnesses and Their Role
Expert witnesses differ from lay witnesses with their ability to offer opinions, grounded in their area of expertise, rather than just factual information (2). They encompass a diverse range of professionals, including forensic scientists, engineers, and medical practitioners, to name a few. Their unique capability lies in interpreting complex aspects of the case and paralleling it to standard procedures, findings, and theories (3).
The Duty of Expert Witnesses to the Court
It is pivotal to underscore that an expert witness’s responsibility stretches beyond the party employing their services; their primary duty is to the court (4). This obligation is underpinned in Rule 702 of the Australian Federal Evidence Act 1995 (5), which states that an expert’s opinion must provide genuine assistance to the court, primarily based on their specialised knowledge. This role underlines the importance of the expert witness’s objectivity and the necessity for their evidence to be free from bias (6).
The duty of the expert witness to the court is outlined explicitly by the Expert Witness Code of Conduct, as laid out in Schedule 7 of the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (7). The Code states that the expert has an overriding duty to assist the court impartially with matters within their expertise and keeping their reports unbiased and comprehensive (7).
Admissibility and Credibility
The admissibility of an expert’s evidence is largely decided based upon the relevance of their expertise. If an expert’s knowledge switches from specialised to commonplace, their evidence may be dismissed due to redundancy (8). The credibility of an expert witness is critical for the acceptance of their opinion, hinged upon their integrity, impartiality and the methodology used (1).
The Daubert Standard, as adopted by the Australian courts, provides a guideline for scientifically assessing the admissibility of the expert’s opinion (9). The Standard considers the professional standing of the expert, the acceptance of their theories in their field, the potential for error in their methods, and the evidence abundance supporting their opinion (9).
Expert witnesses hold a significant place in the Australian judicial system. They can significantly influence the course and outcome of legal proceedings. In this line, their fundamental duty towards the court assures that their specialized insights on complex matters are provided unreservedly and unbiasedly. A breach in this duty can result in penalties, impacting their credibility and future court dealings. Their obligation to the court warrants a consistent commitment to precisely analysed, impartial and clear professional opinion.