Expert and independent

In many complex legal matters, from family disputes to corporate litigation, the courts need to call on professional advice from so-called “expert witnesses”.

Such witnesses are instructed to provide opinions on issues falling within their areas of expertise.  This is in stark contrast to the general rule that witnesses are prohibited from expressing opinions and are allowed only to testify to facts.

In financial matters forensic accountants are engaged as expert and impartial witnesses who can interpret complex accounting terms and explain them to the court in user-friendly terms.

Unlike the scenes often portrayed on film, expert witnesses are not brought in to ‘rubbish’ the other side’s case. Their duty is to the court and their job is to present evidence without bias.

There is no room for speculation during a case or for statements that are not based on evidence and professional experience. Experts are rightly criticised if they stray beyond the areas on which they are qualified to opine. Most famously paediatrician Professor Roy Meadow’s reputation was severely damaged after his appearances as an expert witness for the prosecution in several trials played a crucial part in wrongful convictions for murder. The British General Medical Council (GMC) struck him from the British Medical Register after he was found to have offered erroneous and misleading evidence, by straying outside his field of expertise, in the trial of Sally Clark, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of her two baby sons.

That said, many pieces of evidence can be open to interpretation. For example, if a large sum of money appears in someone’s bank account as a cash deposit, there may be no way of conclusively proving whether it came from legitimate or illegitimate activity.

While expert witnesses might have their own suspicions about the provenance of particular sources of money, it would be wrong of them to say that cash came from a questionable source without corroborating evidence.

Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “Expert witnesses play a key role in court cases around the world and where financial matters are involved, the use of a forensic accountant can be essential in the court reaching a fair decision.”

Author: Roger Isaacs 9 May 2019