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Expert witnesses ‘take on too much work’, Coulson J says

Delays caused 'real and unacceptable suffering' to murder victim's family

17 February 2014

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Expert witnesses who failed to produce their reports on time, caused "real and unacceptable suffering" to a murder victim's family, Mr Justice Coulson has said.

Anwar Rosser was sentenced to life imprisonment at Bradford Crown Court last week, for the murder of Riley Turner, aged four. Rosser had been staying at the Turners' home in Keighley, Yorkshire, before the attack.

After sentencing Rosser, Coulson J said he could not leave the case without commenting on the delays, which led to the trial being adjourned three times.

He said it was "becoming much too common" for major criminal trials to be adjourned because experts, usually those instructed by the defence, required more time to complete their investigations and produce their reports.

"Experts need to understand that the court‐ordered timetable must be complied with and, if they cannot comply with it, they should say so at the outset," the judge said.

"I am left with the nagging suspicion that experts take on too much work and do not provide clear information as to what they can and cannot do within the relevant timescale.

"The result is that deadlines are missed and judges who are case‐managing these sorts of trials are left with an impossible choice between either going ahead without that expert evidence (which could give rise to an appeal, thus bringing everything back to square one) or adjourning the trial.

"If experts in civil cases regularly failed to deliver their reports on time, they would quickly find that they had no further expert witness work. The clients would not stand for it. It is high time that this approach was adopted by the criminal justice system."

Coulson J said the delays in the Anwar case had caused "real and unacceptable suffering" to Riley Turner's family. He said the murder trial was originally listed for July 2013, before being adjourned three times.

The judge added: "If victims are to be brought even further into the centre of the criminal justice system, then it must be a fundamental requirement that experts comply with court timetables, thereby avoiding the delays and adjournments that have disfigured this case."

Mark Solon, managing director of expert witness training company Bond Solon commented: "We have reminded all the experts we have trained of the requirement that experts comply with court timetables to avoid delay.

"Experts do not have the visceral fear that solicitors have of time limits and this case may help them to understand that punctuality matters."

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Expert witness Courts & Judiciary