New report suggests it should be possible to sue expert witnesses for 'gross negligence'

It's one of several proposals being put forward by the Law Reforms Commission

New report suggests it should be possible to sue expert witnesses for 'gross negligence'

Central Criminal Court in Dublin | File photo

The Law Reform Commission is calling for the removal of immunity from expert witnesses in a report published today.

Other proposals made by the Commission include the introduction of laws to make sure experts give independent and impartial evidence in court.

As well as that, the Commission says hearsay evidence should be presumed admissible for business records and a person not placing a religious oath should not be required to state his or her no religious belief.

According to the Commission's recommendations, it should be possible to sue expert witnesses where they've found to have given evidence in a "grossly negligent manner".

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Commissioner Tom O'Malley said there isn't any formal legal code setting out who may be an expert witness, outlining it as one of the most significant amendments within the report.

"The duty of an expert witness is to the court itself, even if what they have to say might not be in the interest of the person calling them", he said. "Their role is there to assist the court.

"It's very important to ensure that the person has the degree of expertise that they are claiming they have [...] And that they behave with integrity and impartiality in giving evidence to the court."

Expert witnesses currently cannot be sued, irrespective of how negligent they might be in performing in their duties.

"There are arguments both pro and con", he added. "On the one hand, it might seem only right that if somebody suffers as a result of negligence on the part of an expert witness, they should have a remedy.

"On the other hand, we didn't want to bring about a situation where you would have litigation unnecessarily running for years extra [...] So what we have suggested is that therefore an expert witness should be liable to be sued where they are grossly negligent."


Hearsay evidence

Hearsay evidence relates to when a witness gives sworn evidence in which they cannot say that they have direct experience of it themselves.

For example, if you witness a traffic accident and tell someone else about it, the other person would not be able to give evidence as they did not witness the incident.

Currently, hearsay evidence is generally not admissible because it can be tested by cross-examination.

The Commission is proposing that the law on hearsay be clarified to allow for its use for certain cases.