Guidance for Experts Witnesses on Giving Evidence Remotely

The Academy of Experts’ judicial committee, led by former Supreme Court judge Lord Saville, has produced guidance on the giving of remote evidence for expert witnesses.

Although many expert witnesses will already have experienced giving evidence remotely via videolink, this is unlikely to have been in situations where some or all of the other participants in the hearing are also communicating via video conferencing software.

The guidance gives basic practical advice on using remote platforms, such as what to wear, ensuring adequate internet connection and advice on GDPR issues etc.

However, it also gives more specific advice such as suggesting experts write their reports with screen display in mind and the use of 3 screens during the hearing, to ensure easy access to the trial bundle, the hearing itself and other documents without the need to constantly change the view.

Interestingly, the guidance also notes the following:

  • Processing information through online contact is hard and even more so at the moment, due to the stresses of lockdown;
  • Witnesses should accept that they are unlikely to have the same space in their “personal hard drive” to work at the same intensity as before;
  • Online communication is far more demanding and tiring;
  • When we meet face to face, we pick up on cues from others, we “read the room”, we receive body language, we gauge opinions of others, and we tend to process this information subconsciously so it guides is in our communication – but none of this is available online. Or, if any of it is, we find it exhausting to process.

These observations may be poignant for the profession, given the pre-COVID-19 push to promote the wider use of remote hearings. The fact that these observations have been put forward by a committee of such eminent and diverse membership is, it is submitted, very telling of the senior judiciaries’ views on a more widespread use of remote hearings in future.