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Expert witnesses could pay for delaying court cases

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ENGINEERS ACTING as expert witnesses in court could face bills for hundreds of thousands of pounds, if judges decide they have delayed cases unnecessarily, a senior lawyer warned this week.

Those ordered to pay costs could also find their professional reputations damaged as a result, said Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw partner, John Rushton.

The warning follows a High Court ruling last month where an expert in an insolvency hearing was criticised for delaying a case.

The case involved a psychiatrist and expert witness, Dr Zamar, who declared a defendant unfit to give evidence or manage his own affairs.

Zamar refused to reconsider his view in the light of new evidence, until ordered to do so by the judge.

He then changed his opinion, admitting that that the defendant was capable of managing his affairs. The prosecution claimed his refusal to change his mind initial had added £400,000 in legal costs to the bill for the case.

'It seems to me that in the administration of justice it would be quite wrong of the Court to remove from itself the power to make a costs order against an expert who, by his evidence, causes significant expense to be incurred, and does so in flagrant disregard to his duties to the Court, ' says Justice Peter Smith's judgement.

Expert witness and civil engineer Alan Harris welcomed the ruling. He said the fear of having to pay costs would give engineers an incentive to own up early to shortcomings in their evidence.

'It is wrong that engineers should be absolved of responsibility for being completely lazy or obstinate or for not keeping an open mind, ' said Harris, who has 20 years' expert witness experience.

Rushton also warned that experts could face further legal costs if reported to the disciplinary panels of their professional bodies.

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