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Truth and the Expert - Dr Mark Burgin

04/04/22. Dr. Mark Burgin BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP discusses working as an independent expert in the Looking Glass world of the law.

One of the first things I was told when working as an expert is ‘Courts are not interested in the truth, they are only interested in what the evidence shows’.

This disturbing view of the court system has assisted me when trying to understand what evidence will be required in a case.

That something is self-evidently true is not enough, an expert must go further and consider the evidence both for and against that something.

The apparently logical and reasonable discussion of that evidence in a report creates the value-added evidence of an expert.

The truth

A court cannot know for certain which of the versions of the truth is the correct one and so sets itself an easier task.

It looks at the material evidence and considers which, on balance, is the more likely of the options in front of it.

The whole machinery of the court process is working to ensure that the right evidence is provided in the right way and considered properly.

The expert contributes to this by considering what explanations fit with the evidence and discussing them in their report.

Explanations

Experts argue between themselves on the correct way of interpreting the evidence and the ‘right’ explanation to give to the court.

They usually take a position on the evidence based upon their own experience and seek to fight for that view feeling that their interpretation is the correct one.

This view is flawed because it is based upon the idea that the court is interested in the truth and will be persuaded by an expert taking a strong view.

Another useful piece of advice was that ‘wise people have strong opinions, that are weakly held’ because it explains the correct relationship between an expert and their opinions.

Range of opinion

Another way of saying this is that the expert should explain in the court the range of opinion, where their own opinion fits on that range and why.

It has been said that an expert only has to be right 51% of the time but this misses the reality that all of the opinions on the range are right.

It is not for the expert to say that the other expert’s opinions are unreasonable (even if they are) but to discuss them using reason and logic.

An expert who does not know that there is a range of opinion that differs from their own risks believing that it their role to decide the case.

Conclusions

Experts often act in the same about the right way to view evidence, particularly from other experts, which gets in the way of their role.

In a professional role the expert will ignore evidence and make decisions on limited evidence but in the legal process neither are permitted.

In many ways the task of an expert is easier as they only have to discuss the evidence and do not have to decide the facts or the case itself.

The perfect expert should approach each case interested to see where the evidence will take them and what their opinion will be.

Doctor Mark Burgin, BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP is on the General Practitioner Specialist Register.

Dr. Burgin can be contacted on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 0845 331 3304 website drmarkburgin.co.uk

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