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Lord Chancellor leaves expert witnesses at mercy of hostile judges

EXPERT WITNESSES can expect no protection from judges who are hostile towards them in court, the Lord Chancellor's Department ruled this week.

It also rejected a request for compensation for an architect expert witness who claims he is £100,000 out of pocket after being forced to clear his name following a judge's criticism.

The ruling was made in response to complaints made last month by a lawyer at Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw about the treatment of her client, architect Michael Wilkey (NCE 20 March).

Wilkey's testimony was criticised by Mr Justice Jacob during a hearing in 2001. The judge referred him to the Architect's Registration Board (ARB) which regulates the professional conduct of architects and which later exonerated him.

A letter sent to Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw by Simon Parsons of the Lord Chancellor's judicial correspondence unit says the Lord Chancellor only has the power to deal with complaints of 'inappropriate personal behaviour' rather than matters of judicial discretion.

Inappropriate personal behaviour includes 'making a racist remark, shouting at a litigant, falling asleep during a hearing, and so on, ' says the letter. Parsons stresses that judges have an important constitutional freedom to 'express their views as to the merits of a case, comment on the voracity (sic) of evidence and so onà' Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw senior assistant solicitor Melanie Carter said the letter 'fails to address the central issue which is that Wilkey had to face disciplinary proceedings'.

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