Since the last issue of Your Expert Witness, when we were in limbo as to where the coronavirus outbreak was going, the COVID-19 crisis has infiltrated all aspects of life – including in the legal sector. It did not take long for the Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to suspend all but the most urgent of hearings, before devising ways of carrying out more routine hearings.
Criticism from lawyers, judges and the press may be deterring health professionals from being expert witnesses in family cases. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, warned back in 2018 that the supply of expertise was ‘drying up’.
In autumn 2018 Sir Andrew established a working group to identify the scale of the problem, to look at the causes and to identify possible solutions. Mr Justice Williams was appointed to chair the group with representation from the judiciary, legal profession, royal medical colleges and other interested bodies.
As we all know, Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has affected our lives in many ways and forced many law firms into hardship.
Some practices are in a catch 22, wondering whether or not to invest in remote working facilities when their financial situation is so vulnerable. I’m aware of one commercial business owner that has 300 employees and a massive weekly payroll. She has to make just that decision: should she financially invest in supplying internet, computers and phones for them to work at home when there is little/no income coming in? Furthermore, there is the knowledge that this situation will not last indefinitely.
Organisations that are looking to use mediation as a way to resolve a dispute without the need for costly litigation need to be aware of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the process in the coming months, and the potential pitfalls and challenges. This is according to Ian Timlin, a specialist dispute resolution and commercial litigation lawyer at Conexus Law, who cautions that the new process may not be as effective and is also less secure unless certain measures are put in place.
Vulnerable offenders with mental health, alcohol and substance abuse problems are increasingly being diverted from short-term custodial sentences and towards treatment that aims to tackle the causes of their offending.
In the pilot areas – Birmingham, Plymouth, Sefton, Milton Keynes and Northampton – psychologists are working collaboratively with the existing panels of justice and health officials. Together, the professionals ensure that magistrates and judges have the information they need to determine whether an offender should be required to receive treatment for their mental health, alcohol or drug issues.
In September the Ministry of Justice published the results of a consultation on medical reporting within the package of whiplash and small claims track reforms – due to be implemented in April next year for road traffic cases. The consultation ran for a month in April-May, and the resultant document sets out the government’s policy choices.
It is, however – as seems par for the course in this area – very light on detail. That is the conclusion of Alistair Kinley, director of policy and government affairs at law firm BLM.
The government has confirmed it will close a legal loophole which has allowed drivers to escape prosecution for hand-held mobile phone use while behind the wheel.
At present, the law prevents drivers from using a hand-held mobile phone to call or text.
However, people caught filming or taking photos while driving have escaped punishment as lawyers have successfully argued that the activity does not fit into the ‘interactive communication’ currently outlawed by the legislation.
The British Safety Council welcomed the news of the High Court quashing the verdict of the 2014 inquest into the death of nine-year old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who suffered a fatal asthma attack. Her mother Rosamund has since campaigned for a fresh inquest, believing Ella’s death was caused by high levels of air pollution near her home in southeast London. It means that Ella could become the first person in the UK to have air pollution mentioned as a contributory factor on her death certificate.
Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, commented: “The ruling of the High Court is proof that since 2014 we have become much better informed about the dangers of air pollution. Air poll...
Dr Debbie Marsden, a leading equestrian expert with over 20 years professional experience of expert witness work, offers some advice on selecting the right expert in cases involving animals
In animal related cases, a veterinary surgeon is often the best expert, being generally regarded as an authority on animals and easily recognised by the word ‘veterinary’ – a protected title – and the letters MRCVS (Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) after various degrees.
The Law Society of England and Wales has criticised the decision to exempt the Home Office from data access rules in the new Data Protection Act, which implements the widely-publicised GDPR. The move will inevitably lead to miscarriages of justice, the society has warned.
Law Society president Joe Egan said the immigration exemption in the legislation stripped accountability from Home Office decision making.
On 8 November Bond Solon held the 25th Bond Solon Expert Witness Conference at Church House in Westminster. Demand for the conference had been particularly high, leading to a fully-booked event. Nearly 500 expert witnesses were in attendance and there were over 50 expert witnesses on the waiting list.
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