People who give expert opinion are called expert witnesses. The evidence they give is called expert evidence. Their evidence comes in a written document called an expert’s report. It focuses on what they think or believe about something they are experts in.
A judge will only take account of someone’s opinion if it is given by an expert. And their opinion must be relevant to the dispute, for example, a doctor’s opinion about whether or not you will fully recover from an accident.
You can’t have an expert’s report in a small claim unless the court gives permission. In fast track claims it is quite common to have an expert’s report, but often the contents of the report aren’t in dispute, and you won’t need the expert at court to give evidence. If an expert has to attend court it will add hugely to the cost. It may also delay the trial of your case as their availability is often limited.
When do I need expert evidence?
You may need to get expert evidence to prove some of the points in your case. For example, if your case is about personal injury, you will need a medical report from an appropriate medical expert. It is usually best if they have not been involved in your case in any way so you would normally instruct someone who is not involved in treating you.
How to get expert evidence about your case
It is normal to use an expert who is agreed on by both sides, except in the most complex and high value cases. If you need an expert, you are expected to propose who you want to the other side and ask them to confirm within 21 days that they don’t object.
If your case is a small claim, you won’t be allowed to use expert evidence without the permission of the court, which you have to apply for. (The rules for personal injury small claims are different.)
If you have a soft tissue injury resulting from a road traffic accident and are using the Claims Portal to deal with your claim, then MedCo is the system you will use to get a medical report.
If you have to get your own expert report we can’t recommend a particular expert, but the internet is full of links to directories of expert witnesses. Here are a few you may want to look at:
If you're not covered by the MedCo system and are looking for a medical expert but aren’t sure what kind of expert you need, you can try contacting the British Medical Association. They may be able to help. You can contact them by phone: 0300 123 1233 or email: email@example.com. You could also ask your GP.
How to arrange for your expert to give evidence
You will need the court’s permission to use expert evidence in court, that is, where experts actually come to the court to give evidence in person, rather than have their written reports relied on. In most fast track cases the court will decide that there should be a single expert, jointly instructed by you and the other party. In others, it may allow each party to have separate experts, but that is increasingly rare because it is so expensive. In either case, expert evidence has to be given in a written report. Fortunately, it is very common for the other side to agree the contents of an expert report, particularly a medical report in straightforward cases, for example, involving a broken leg.
The order for directions in your case will set out what you need to do about expert evidence. For example, the order may say that you are allowed to rely on a particular expert’s evidence and ask you to file an updated report by a particular date.
Usually, either party can submit written questions for the expert to answer before the trial happens. The court will include a timetable in their order for directions setting out how long you have to ask any questions and how long the expert has to reply. Typically, you may have 14 or 21 days after you get the expert’s report to submit your questions and the expert will have a similar period in which to reply. You must send a copy of your questions to the other party.
Unless the court gives permission or the other party agrees you can only ask questions that aim to make some aspect of the report clearer and more understandable. The answer you get will be treated as part of the expert’s report and so will become evidence in the case, whether you like what they say or not.
There are lots of rules and guidance about experts, their reports and their role in court proceedings. If you want to involve an expert in your claim, you will need to read these.