The fun of attending court….

Categories: Forensic Casework experiences, Opinion

I see from the UK press that the UK government is looking to cap Legal Services funding for expert witnesses by allowing a maximum monetary limit per day for attendance at court plus a maximum hourly rate for different forensic disciplines for report preparation and the like.  It seems to me that the general effect of this may be to regionalise forensic services provision in the independent sector – who can realistically afford to travel for four hours to get to court, attend for a full day because they’ve moved your case to the afternoon sitting and then spend another four hours getting home again if LSC is only going to pay a maximum of 490 quid a day?  Whilst that may be OK for areas where providers are thin on the ground it’s going to be tough for those in areas where there are several consultancies in one region (say, Cambridgeshire) providing the same sorts of services.  I imagine only the most business-minded company will survive (any suggestions for who might go down the tubes….?).

Here in New Zealand, Legal Services has yet to cap the hourly rate for experts but I think it may be coming.  Top QCs currently get paid about $100/hour less than expert witnesses so I can’t say I blame the lawyers for moaning about Legal Aid rates – they’re making a big stink about it at the moment.  This could have an impact on my business but I know I don’t have the highest charge-out rates around but I do know that there is a massive range in the hourly rate charged by expert witnesses.

Certainly from my experience in the UK there are many places where savings could be made without the need to cut anybody’s hourly rate.  Here is a typical day at court for a drink drive case:

Receive letter stating that my report has not been agreed by the Crown so my attendance at court is required.

Telephone the night before just to check that I am still required – yes.

Get up and drive off into the darkness at some hideous pre-dawn hour to get to court by 9.30am, as requested.

Find court doors locked.

Wait til 9.45 for a clerk to arrive and open the doors.

Wait til 10am for someone involved in my case to turn up; it’s the prosecutor, who gives me a funny look as if to say “what’re you doing here?”.

Wait til 10.15am to be told that the case isn’t listed to start until 11.30am.

Be approached by my instructing barrister at 11.15am who advises me that my report was accepted by the Crown last Tuesday so I shouldn’t have been advised by the solicitor to attend today.  He’s not sure whether my fees will be met by the court because in theory the court didn’t require me to attend.

Get back to the faceless car park, drive a long way home, probably along the A14, get home at 6.00pm.

Send invoice to the court that doesn’t get paid because apparently I wasn’t required to attend.  Several months of arguments about payment pass by…..

There are several variations on this general theme, one of which involves two experts attending, one for each side.  Neither knew an expert was involved for the other side.  Neither has seen the other’s report.  Both agree the other’s report.  One prepares a hand-written section 10 agreement, which they both sign.  Both leave court having contributed nothing to the case except to slow down the court for the day.  The court receives two bills for experts, neither of whom needed to attend in the first place had the legal administration been working properly.

Does anyone ever ask what we experts think?  Sometimes, but I don’t think anyone listens….

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Forensic Scientist