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£200,000 Expert witness fee

The Sunday Times for 28 February 2010 has published a news story of a headmistress appearing as an expert witness for a school which has been sued by an ex-pupil who was left brain-damaged following a hammer attack by fellow classmates.

In her capacity as expert witness she wrote a 30-page report commenting on and assessing the school’s health and safety policies and spent three days in court presenting, and being cross examined on, it.

The fee charged is £200,000, having been negotiated by the head teacher’s agent. The justification for it, according to the Sunday Times report, is that the preparation for the trial involved nearly a year’s work, reading the requisite documents, researching and distilling all of that into a comprehensible report. She had had no expert witness training.

The expert witness called by the Claimant produced a 374 page report and charged about £70,000 for it.

It turns out that, according to the report in the Sunday Times (we have not yet seen the judgment itself), the trial judge maintained that he was “not greatly assisted” by either of the expert reports, partly because of the lack of expert witness experience of each of the witnesses and partly because they did not seem to appreciate that they were meant to assist the court with information outside its general knowledge rather than act as further advocates for the party calling them.

The fees sought have still to be justified at a formal taxation hearing.

The new proposals put forward by Lord Justice Jackson in his report on the civil justice system would require expert witness’s costs to be agreed by both sides in a case prior to the hearing.

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