History of Expert Witnesses

(01/14/2013)

The earliest known use of an expert witness in English law came in 1782, when a court that was hearing litigation relating to the silting-up of Wells harbour in Norfolk accepted evidence from a leading civil engineer, John Smeaton. This decision by the court to accept Smeaton's evidence is widely cited as the root of modern rules on expert evidence. However, it was still such an unusual feature in court that in 1957 in the Old Bailey, Lord Justice Patrick Devlin could describe the case of suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams thus: "It is a most curious situation, perhaps unique in these courts, that the act of murder has to be proved by expert evidence."

On the other hand, expert evidence is often the most important component of many civil and criminal cases today. Fingerprint examination, blood analysis and DNA fingerprinting are common kinds of expert evidence heard in serious criminal cases. In civil cases, the work of accident analysis, forensic engineers, and forensic accountants is usually important, the latter to assess damages and costs in long and complex cases. Intellectual property and medical negligence cases are typical examples.

Electronic evidence has also entered the courtroom as critical forensic evidence. Audio and video evidence must be authenticated by both parties in any litigation by a forensic expert who is also an expert witness who assists the court in understanding details about that electronic evidence.

Voice-mail recordings and closed-circuit television systems produce electronic evidence often used in litigation, more so today than in the past. Video recordings of bank robberies and audio recordings of life threats are presented in court rooms by electronic expert witnesses. (Wikipedia)

What's your take on this subject?