The Expert Witness Training Program (EWTP) has been acknowledged, internationally, as an important educative tool to teach those who would be expert witnesses, within legal proceedings, what is expected of them. The Australasian College of Legal Medicine (ACLM) has been running such courses for more than 2 decades, in which time the courses have been refined and improved.
Those who register, to participate in the courses, are sent pre-reading materials which outline what is required. They are also expected to submit a de-identified report that is critically marked and serves as the basis for their testimony in the witness stand during a moot (mock trial).
The courses are conducted in two parts: as a series of didactic lectures; and as practical implementation of those lectures, with a moot. Lectures are provided by a solicitor, barrister, judge and an experienced expert. Each lecture describes what is expected from the witness, at each stage of legal proceedings, starting with the interaction with the solicitor, report writing, preparing for court, attending and participating in the court proceedings, and how to produce an optimal performance as an expert, designed to meet the demands of each stage of the interchange between medicine and law. The differences between each member of the legal team are discussed, as are their differing expectations of the expert. Following completion of the didactic component, each participant provides a very brief overview of the case that is the subject of their submitted report. Following such presentations they access the witness stand and participate in a mock trial in which they serve as a witness. The moot is conducted with a barrister leading the evidence in chief and a second barrister cross-examining that evidence. This occurs in front of a judge, in similar fashion to a real court. The participants, those not on the stand, serve as a jury and all who are involved provide feedback after the evidence has been heard by the ‘court’.
There is plenty of time for feedback, both for the participants and the faculty, and all who complete the course are expected to hand in a court appraisal, prior to recept of their returned marked reports and a certificate attesting to successful completion of the program.
Courses have been run around Australia and New Zealand including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Queenstown and Wellington. Numbers involved, in each of the courses, are restricted to ensure that there is sufficient time for each participant to gain optimal benefit from the program. Recently we have received requests to look further afield and to widen jurisdictions, which include such places as Hong Kong and the United States.
Participants have been very positive in their feedback and the courses are run at very modest, reasonable cost to the participants. They serve as part of the ACLM’s commitment to educate and improve the way in which experts assist the legal process. While fellowship of the ACLM is restricted to doctors and dentists, affiliated membership is far broader and courses are designed for anyone within the health sector and include participants who are: occupational therapists; psychologists; social workers; physiotherapists; and any other allied health professionals who would like to benefit from being part of the program. This generates a wider range of experience, amongst the attendees, which translates to greater cross fertilisation and an enhanced appreciation of how experts fit into the system and can complement each other. The courses are generally run over two days, usually over a weekend, and are designed to accommodate the needs of busy clinicians who are time-poor. They serve as part of the training programs, prescribed by the College, to advance to fellowship yet the EWTP can be taken as a ‘standalone’ course that is highly recommended for anyone anticipating working as an expert witness within the legal system.
Roy G Beran