On being an expert witness in sexual and reproductive health

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Abstract

A new generation of expert witnesses in sexual and reproductive health is needed, including those in nursing as well as medical roles. Being an expert witness is a significant commitment alongside clinical work. Nevertheless, the work is stimulating and rewarding. Training is essential before starting medicolegal work. In particular expert witnesses need to be able to apply appropriate legal tests to the evidence, to deal with the range of expert opinion on a matter, and explain clearly what constitutes an appropriate standard of care for a clinician in their discipline and specialty. Expert witnesses must be aware of pitfalls such as being sued for substandard work and being reported to their professional regulator for straying outside their area of expertise. Expert witnesses must be truly independent and ideally their reports should be the same whoever they receive their instructions from. In addition to report writing, expert witnesses are required to comment on court documents, participate in conferences with a barrister and hold formal discussions with an opposing expert witness. Expert witnesses need to be administratively efficient and responsive. Although appearance in court is not that common, this is an essential part of the role. Apart from litigation in the civil courts, other types of case may present themselves including patent cases, work in the Court of Protection and health professionals' Fitness to Practise hearings.

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