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The Evolution of the Expert Witness

An expert witness (EW) should, first and foremost, be considered to have expert knowledge relating to the particular subject matter of his/her field, but the role is evolving.

The Evolution of the Expert Witness

There are several additional attributes and skills that distinguish the EW, some of which are gained from prior experience of the dispute resolution process. By undertaking testifying appointments, and developing courtroom etiquette as well as report-writing skills, while maintaining contemporary knowledge of the modern construction site at both ground level and senior management level, an EW stands to be strategically well positioned to give the most informed advice required by the client, as well as to the tribunal or court. Simply put, an EW benefits from the additional skills gained from prior experience of the dispute resolution process. However, a practising expert must maintain up-to-date technical knowledge and experience too.

To the average layperson, the differentiation between the technical capabilities of a subject-matter expert (SME) and the role of an appointed EW may seem insignificant, but definitions of each may assist. A (subject matter) expert can be defined as “a person with a high level of knowledge or skill relating to a particular subject matter”. An expert witness can be defined as “a person who is asked to give their opinion on a particular subject in a law court because of their knowledge or practical experience of that subject”.

These definitions provide a distinction between the reaching of an opinion and the presentation of the subject matter to the audience. Theoretically, there should be no difference between an SME’s knowledge of a technical matter and the EW’s application and presentation of the subject matter. Both an SME and an EW will possess a high level of technical knowledge relative to their profession, gained through a combination of practical and academic experience. Thus, when considering who should be appointed to provide expert witness testimony or reports on a disputed project, it would be expected that the person selected already fulfils these basic requirements. That said, there are other non-technical qualities that lawyers and clients must consider when selecting the right EW for a particular dispute.

"a person with a high level of knowledge or skill relating to a particular subject matter"

"Should an EW fail to keep abreast of the latest industry developments, the final opinion they deliver may be scrutinised on grounds of robustness"