In litigation, the relationship between expert and instructing solicitor is an important one. I have preached in many previous articles about the need to choose your expert with care, and not to tell the trainee to get the cheapest at the latest possible date but choose yourself an expert who is both excellent at their basic profession, but also who has taken the trouble to learn how to become a member of the second profession of expert. And if it goes wrong, it can be catastrophic. See a couple of examples in my previous blogs:
And there are plenty more morality tales on my website.
See this, from the second blog above:
The expert should be chosen carefully; it is not good enough to go for the cheapest, or the one who can take up your instructions at the last minute, the implication being that they have nothing else to do. Don’t leave the job to a junior. It is usually helpful to choose your expert early so that he can help you weed out the hopeless cases or pyrrhic victories, or help you with ADR. And it is good to have a working relationship with an expert who will look at any case without obligation, and without charge, if the matter does not proceed; one of my standard terms.
The working relationship
Whilst I am the first to admit that my position is inferior to the solicitor’s, I do have an important part to play, starting with the initial review without obligation, where I will look at the key documents and give the solicitor my notes on how I would proceed, and what it is likely to cost. If we don’t go forward together, there is no charge (and no sulking!). But as we do go forward, I am available to play an active part – if invited – in Part 36 offers, mediations, security for costs applications, and so on. But I must be properly instructed. This is from my engagement letter, to be countersigned by the solicitor. No signature, no report!
So that I can deal effectively and efficiently with your instructions, I emphasise that it is your responsibility as the instructing solicitor to:
- Keep me informed regularly about any deadlines and any timetable for the proceedings and to provide me with any order or notice making any provision in relation to expert evidence;
- Ensure that I am provided with copies of all documents, statements of case and witness statements that are relevant to the issues I have been asked to consider;
- Consult with me when applying for a hearing date, so that I can advise you of any dates when the expert is unavailable, and give us as much notice as possible of the allocated date of any Court hearing;
- Advise me when my report has been disclosed to the other party to the action and give me the opportunity to consider and comment upon other reports which deal with the same issues;
- Keep me informed of the progress of the action, including any amendments to the stated case relevant to my expert opinion.
I’m sure you will agree that this is no more than good housekeeping.
But what if your expert cannot or will not continue?
This leads us to the recent Leeds County Court case of Sajid Hussain -v- QIC Europe Ltd.
Very briefly, Mr Hussain had some cavity wall insulation done at his home. It was defective, and he claimed £59,000 in damages. The contractor had gone into creditors’ voluntary liquidation, and the defendant was the PL insurer. None of that really matters at present.
The relevant matter is that the claimant’s expert was a Mr Robert Muir, who obtained a post in Saudi Arabia and said he was no longer able to continue as expert. I have to say I find this surprising; whilst I never had to give expert evidence by video in pre-covid days, I have been at hearings where other experts gave evidence by video from Iran or Majorca. And these days, we have all become accustomed to providing evidence, and even the whole hearing, by virtual means.
In Hussain, DJ Bond referred to three cases:
- In Edwards-Tubb -v- JD Wetherspoon PLC  Hughes LJ said: “It will often, perhaps normally, be proper to allow a party the option, at his own expense, of seeking a second opinion.”
- In Adams -v- Allen & Overy  Foskett J said that the expert’s unwillingness to continue “…constitutes a good reason why [the party] should not want to call him. His reasons are a matter for him, and I am not convinced he has to justify himself.”
- In Murray -v Devenish  Gross LH said “…ordinarily a party will not be deprived of his or her expert of choice and will not be forced to rely on an expert in whom that party has lost confidence, but expert shopping is to be and will be discouraged.”
So, barring expert shopping, it seems the courts are quite relaxed about allowing a change of expert.
So what happened in the present case?
DJ Bond did allow the claimant to change expert, for these reasons:
- Mr Muir’s reasons for wanting to stand down were unconvincing, but he went to considerable lengths to justify his decision, and it was quite apparent that he did not want to act.
- The defendant had had no engagement with Mr Muir.
- There would have been logistical difficulties in bringing an unwilling Mr Muir before the court from Saudi Arabia.
- The ultimate objective in all cases is to try cases justly. In the present case, things were at an early stage, there would be no adverse effect on the court’s timetable and the defendant may be subject to extra expense in responding to a new expert’s report, but that could be compensated for in costs. If the application to replace Mr Muir had been rejected, that could have left the claimant with an unwilling expert or no expert at all, on matters which were central to the case.
So we go back to the first principle, CPR 1.1 that the court has the overriding objective to deal with cases “justly and at proportionate cost.”
But I still return to my recurring theme, that solicitors should choose their experts with care. And an indication that the chosen expert is likely to remain in the UK for the duration of the case is always helpful!