1. Specialist inspectors might be involved in an investigation either as part of the investigation team (albeit with specialist knowledge) or as an independent expert witness. The specialist knowledge of inspectors involved in an investigation may allow them to be treated as an expert witness in the event of a prosecution. The courts have held that the fact that an expert may be employed by one of the parties to litigation or the investigating authority would not debar them from giving expert evidence 1. The same principle applies to inspectors acting as experts in HSE prosecutions.
2. However, the roles of investigator and expert witness are usually mutually exclusive, and a specialist inspector will rarely be appointed as an independent expert if they are directly involved in the investigation. The decision as to whether an ‘independent expert’ is required, and who it should be, rests with the person responsible for managing the investigation or prosecution on behalf of HSE, not the specialist.
3. Whilst a specialist inspector may advise the investigator/s on the gathering of evidence, such as questions to put to witnesses or to a suspect, if a specialist has been appointed (or is intending) to act as a potential expert, they should remain independent of the investigation and should be seen to do so: they should generally not take statements as part of the investigation or attend an interview of a suspect under caution (PACE interview). If a specialist inspector (who is not to act as an expert) attends a PACE interview, the fact of their specialist expertise should be disclosed.
4. Expert witnesses enjoy three privileges over ordinary witnesses of fact:
5. An expert witness may give opinions to assist in resolving issues concerning matters of knowledge which can only be acquired by special training or experience 2. Their role is to assist the court or jury on matters where their ordinary, everyday experience does not enable them to adequately consider the issues in the case 3. It is for the court to decide whether a witness is properly qualified to give an expert opinion 4and the admissibility and weight of their evidence 5. Factors which the court may take into account when determining the reliability of expert opinion are detailed in the Criminal Practice Directions 2014; they include the quality of data, the validity, accuracy and reliability of methods used, safety of inferences relied upon, peer review, range of expertise, completeness of information available and range of opinion.6
6. The facts on which the expert’s opinions are based must be either admitted or proved by admissible evidence. Usually, such facts are established by other witnesses but they may include facts observed by the expert him/herself.
7. An expert’s opinion must be objective and unbiased. Although a defendant will be entitled to call their own expert evidence it is the duty of an expert witness instructed by the prosecution (and indeed an expert witness called by any defendant) in a criminal case to act in the cause of justice. An expert’s duty to the court overrides any obligation to the party instructing or paying them and includes an obligation to define their area/s of expertise in their report and when giving evidence in person. The expert must assist the court by giving objective, unbiased opinion within their area of expertise7 whilst complying with the rules of evidence. They must actively assist the court in fulfilling its duty of case management, in particular by complying with court directions and informing the court of any significant failure to take a necessary step in that regard.8 The expert must inform all parties and the court if their opinion changes from that contained in a report or statement served in evidence.
8. The responsibilities in relation to expert evidence are shared between the expert and the prosecutor, but it is the prosecutor who has overall responsibility for the case; the expert is expected to assist with that task.
9. The duties and responsibilities of expert witnesses in criminal cases include the following:-
10. Experts who are civil servants must also carry out their duties in accordance with the Civil Service Code and its core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. The Code reinforces the standards expected of all experts by the courts.
11. It is the responsibility of the person managing the investigation to manage the use of specialists, deciding how they should be used and ensuring that experts remain independent. There is guidance in the Use of Specialists – Specialist Assistance Procedure (in Operational Procedures).
12. Any correspondence with an expert pertaining to their instructions will be disclosable and the defence will be entitled to see it. Whilst instructions to an expert explaining what is being asked of them will normally be recorded in formal correspondence (and see also the section ‘The report’ paragraph 6), the defence will also be entitled to see any "informal" correspondence. For further guidance, see the paragraphs on expert evidence in the section ‘Approach to common categories of material’ in [Expert and Specialist].
13. When an expert witness is instructed, it is important that they understand what is required of them. The expert should be referred to this chapter of the Enforcement Guide and also the section on disclosure mentioned above. The expert must fully understand that they have an overriding duty to assist the court and should not feel prevented from providing information that might prove detrimental to the prosecution case. In order to meet that overriding duty, they are under an obligation to assist the prosecution with the statutory requirements relating to disclosure. The expert should be reminded of this obligation, which takes precedence over any internal codes of practice or other standards set by professional organisations.
14. Those instructing an expert will need to think carefully about what information should be supplied to them. Experts enjoy particular privileges arising from their qualifications and expertise. Those privileges, in particular the ability to put opinion evidence before the jury, can be undermined if it appears that their opinion has been improperly influenced. Any material provided to the expert should be listed in the original and any subsequent instructions. The expert should not be given material (such as internal prosecution or investigation reports) which is likely to contain opinion evidence from people other than witnesses of fact or other experts. The defence is entitled to see all material provided to the expert by those instructing them and therefore sensitive or privileged material must not be supplied.
15. Experts should not be asked to conduct tests that will only favour the prosecution. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 requires investigators to pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry, and this means that tests that might undermine the prosecution case should also be commissioned.
16. Responsibility for directing the investigation remains with those instructing the expert. If the expert believes that further work or information is required, or if they change their evidence, they should communicate this to the person managing the investigation. Discussions with experts should be recorded, as they are clearly relevant to the investigation (and disclosable), particularly any discussion in which additional information is provided to the expert.
17. When an expert report is served on another party or the court, those instructing the expert must inform them at once. 9
18. The court may direct that experts acting for the parties should discuss the expert issues in the proceedings and prepare a statement for the court on the matters on which they agree and disagree, giving their reasons.10 Save for the statement itself, the content of the discussion must not be referred to in court without the court’s permission 11.
19. Experts should be reminded that a failure to comply with their duties or a direction of the court could have a number of adverse consequences, including the delay or halting of the prosecution case, exclusion of the expert evidence, the overturning of any conviction and criticism of the expert by the judge, which might result in referral of the expert to any relevant professional body. Such consequences might prevent him/her from acting as an expert in future.
20. If questions remain about the role or instruction of experts, advice should be sought via your legal liaison point.