In England and Wales, How Much Longer Will Experts be Immune?

As in the United States, experts in England and Wales often play a fundamental role in litigation. Their opinions influence whether a case is brought, case strategy and settlement decisions. Experts currently have limited immunity for claims of professional negligence. This immunity extends to evidence given by the expert in court and to work which is preliminary to giving such evidence. This immunity has applied even where an expert has been dishonest with the parties or the court. The rationale is that an expert witnesses should be free to give evidence in court without fear of being sued by a party whose case is lost.

This issue recently came under scrutiny in Jones v Kaney [2010] EWHC 61. The extent of immunity will be considered by the Supreme Court in January 2011, after permission was granted for a “leap-frog appeal”.

In Jones, Dr. Kaney was hired by the claimant, Mr. Jones, to prepare an expert medical report regarding personal injuries he suffered following a traffic accident. Dr. Kaney initially opined that Mr. Jones suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The defendant’s expert disagreed, believing that Jones had exaggerated his physical symptoms. The experts later discussed the case and prepared a joint statement, signed by both experts, saying the claimant was deceitful. Although Dr. Kaney later tried to retract the statement, the court refused and the claim settled for a considerably smaller sum than originally sought. Jones then brought proceedings for negligence against Dr. Kaney, who sought to have the case struck out on grounds of her immunity from suit, applying the Court of Appeals’ decision in Stanton v Callaghan [1999] 2 WLR 745.

Mr. Jones argued that Stanton is no longer good law for two reasons: (1) the immunity can no longer survive in light of the House of Lords’ decision in Arthur Hall v Simons [2000] 3 WLR 543 (where a barrister’s immunity from suit was abolished); and (2) the expert witness immunity is inconsistent with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to a fair trial.

The Judge found in Dr Kaney’s favour, considering himself bound by Stanton, but said:

“although I conclude that Stanton v Callaghan remains good law, I have doubts as to whether it will continue to remain so for the reasons canvassed by the Claimant…. I conclude that there is a substantial likelihood that on re-examination by a superior court, with the power to do so, it will emerge that public policy justification for the rule cannot support it”.

With permission for the appeal having been granted, there is a possibility that experts’ immunity will be severely curtailed, if not altogether abolished.
 

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