What Is An Expert Witness?

Disputes happen. In our industry, it’s usually about the quality of construction works, payments due under building contracts, dilapidations or claims of professional negligence. If legal action is taken to resolve the dispute, then you can ask to submit expert evidence to assist in a judgment. You have to ask permission to do this, but most judges will allow it, especially where the claim involves matters of a technical nature. But what exactly does ‘expert witness’ mean, and when would you need one?

What Does ‘Expert Witness’ Mean?

An expert is anyone with knowledge or experience of a particular field or discipline beyond that expected of a layman. Chartered Surveyors normally have specialist knowledge or expertise in subjects around building defects, construction processes or construction matters, so we are often appointed in property disputes as an expert.

An expert witness must:

Be impartial and uninfluenced by the instructing parties.
Have the relevant experience and knowledge for the assignment.
Not be affected by any conflict of interest.
Only provide an opinion on matters which fall within their area of expertise, experienceand knowledge.
Consider all material relevant facts.
Have the resources to complete the assignment within the required timescales, and to the required standard.

When Do I Need an Expert?

You can bring in an expert at any time to do investigations and report their findings. But you do have to get the court’s permission so that it can be called upon as evidence in proceedings.

The court can instruct the parties to each obtain expert evidence in relation to establishing specific issues, or agree on the appointment of a single joint expert. An expert can accept instructions directly from the parties, although we would always recommend you obtain qualified legal advice first.

We’ve Been Given Permission/Orders To Call An Expert Witness – What Do You Need?

The most important thing in this situation is that the instructions to the expert are clear. If an order or court directions have been issued, these should be provided to us along with any relevant matters of the case, details of the parties involved in the dispute and any required timescales.

What If I Don’t Agree With Your Findings?

When we accept your instructions, we will advise you that our usual complaints handling procedure doesn’t apply. This is because even though you are responsible for paying the fees, our duty as an expert is to the court or tribunal, not to the instructing party. The evidence we provide must set out in full the facts on which our opinion is given, and it must be truthful, impartial and provide an independent decision. The report must also cover all relevant matters, whether or not those facts favour the instructing party.

We do, however, still have a duty to exercise reasonable skill and care, and comply with the RICS professional standards.

How Much Does It Cost?

How long is a piece of string? It’s difficult to give a fixed price on this kind of thing. Each case will be different depending on the time and complexity involved in reviewing documentation, doing inspections, reviewing findings, discussions between experts and preparing reports. In complex cases the time spent on this can be considerable, so we always recommend you speak to a professional to get an idea of the costs involved.

Do You Offer a No-Win, No-Fee Option?

No, and hopefully you won’t find any expert witness who does. The RICS practice statement strictly prohibits any appointment on a conditional of a success-based fee arrangement when we’re acting as an expert witness. Mainly because it impacts our impartiality. The overriding duty of an expert witness is to the court or the tribunal they are giving the expert advice to. It’s a clear requirement of the Civil Procedure Rules and Practice directions, and it’s something we cannot break.

At Harrison Clarke, we have a wealth of experience preparing expert evidence and reports that are compliant with the guidance and protocols. You can be sure that we have a thorough technical knowledge and experience to deal with dispute issues in all of our service areas, including party walls, dilapidations, construction disputes, contract administration and professional negligence. If you need some help, or just want to ask our advice, you can contact us on 023 8155 0051 – we’ll be happy to help.

We also have a range of videos talking through various aspects of the Party Wall process. You can access them via our website or our YouTube channel

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Discover something you would like to know more about?

Paul Badham, associate director and building surveyor at Harrison Clarke chartered surveyors.

About the author

Paul Badham,
BSc (Hons) MSc PGDipSurv MRICS

Associate Director

Paul joined the team at Harrison Clarke in 2021, having previously worked with Daniells Harrison Chartered Surveyors, Vivid Housing and First Wessex Property Services. Paul first started surveying in 2008, becoming a Chartered Building Surveyor in 2015. 

Paul brings experience from his previous career in shipping, and has a degree in Shipping Operations, as well as a Post Graduate Diploma in Surveying. Paul is an RICS Registered Expert Witness and is experienced in technical due diligence, dilapidations, party wall, and contract administration.