I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago for the College of Surgeons, highlighting the key principles governing the obligations owed by medical and other expert witness’ to the court + set out in the District Court of Western Australia’s Code of Conduct.  Emphasis was placed upon the trust and reliance the Court places on such experts to assist them, rather than being partisan advocates for the parties retaining them.

Judge Stevenson, in a non-med neg context (though equally applicable) gave his ‘thoughts’ on the topic, and the Court’s demanding expectations of experts, in no uncertain terms recently, in Mills v Downer EDI [2011] WADC 82, see particularly @ [241] – [242].

I note in this context, in a similar vein, the recent NSW Supreme Court decision in KF v Sydney Children’s Hospital [2011] NSWSC 874, in which the wonderfully named Justice Johnson, refused permission for a party’s legal representatives to meet with the experts they would rely upon to support their claims of negligence, ahead of an agreed joint conference between the 2 sides’ experts.
The Court (and this is embodied in such Court’s Standing Practice Note for such conferences), seeks that the experts confer and seek to narrow or resolve their areas of disagreement without the involvement of legal representatives.  No doubt cause for palpitations for the lawyers involved!

The legal representatives have a critical role in setting the questions/issues for the experts to consider, but at the stage of such consideration, their role and advocacy based on one party’s best interests or another is to be avoided, to the extent possible.

In Western Australia, the use of such devices/processes are only now emerging.

Generally, parties (and this is true on both sides) have to date jealously guarded control + access to their experts.

It will be interesting to follow in the next year or so + figure out how such process’ emerge and how they alter the dynamic and approach needed in pursuing such claims.