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  • Writer's pictureDr Shungu Hilda M’gadzah

Expert Witnesses: Are You Acting Ethically with Honesty and Integrity? Don"t Get Caught Out Like The Post Office Expert Witness!

Updated: Mar 23

Is your Statement of Truth purely performative or does it truly guide and reflect your assessment, recommendations and any deliberations with counsel (Barrister)  and any joint expert witness discussions and reports.

Let’s talk about ethics and acting with integrity.

What kind of expert witness are you? Are you one who changes your report just to please the Legal team, and to earn that pay check?

This podcast by Roismi really couldn’t have come out at a better time. With more damning evidence  release yesterday about the post office scandal, the integrity of expert witness and the concerns re: tampering with evidence will be hot topics for discussion. I am sure there will be many people out there wondering how independent are expert witnesses? Do they just write what the legal team tells them to?

I work as an expert witness exploring barriers to learning, and systemic failures. I work with children, young people and adults. I get to see how failure to tackle and identify special educational needs and disabilities in a timely fashion and early on in a child’s life can lead to problems down the line and to reduced outcomes.

My work as an expert witness covers many areas: clinical negligent claims, special educational needs (SENDIST) appeals and fitness to plead/ Forensic cases.

My work extends to being a psychology expert in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI/EDI) / anti-racism claims exploring issues of discrimination and racism.

I also work to explore whether parents have been negligent in their failure to send their children to school especially where the children have special educational needs, anxiety and emotional based school avoidance.

I invite you to listen to this podcast to hear about my experiences in this cases, and as expert witness who is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion. You will understand even more why this work is so important.

As an expert witness, sometimes I work preparing assessment reports for the Defendant and other times for the Claimant. I talk about these different roles in the podcast. Whoever I am working for, I always put the child or adult at the centre of my considerations.

Last week my PA asked me are you working on this case as a Defendant or as a Claimant expert psychologist. I realised that I had not even checked as most of the time when I start these assessments and formulate my thinking ie psychological formulation I find it irrelevant whether I am the defendant psychologist or claimant psychologist.

I usually only look at this when I’m reading other expert witness reports and considering specific questions from the solicitors’ instructions. However, I still do not allow the legal team (whether it be for the Defendant or for the Claimant) to sway my recommendations. When working on case, I attend legal conferences where I meet with the Counsel ie the Barrister, Solicitors and the other expert witnesses. I will always speak up if I feel the needs of the child are not being kept at the centre. That is what Diversity and Inclusion is all about, it requires you to act ethically (within honesty and integrity.)

If I receive comments about my report from the Solicitors or barrister whilst I may make amendments to my report, I remain independent and do not allow any requests from the legal team to change my original psychological formulation and recommendations.

So, What did you think about the post office scandal and the latest revelation that the expert witness, Gareth Jenkins changed his report because he was asked to by the Barrister, Warwick Tatford?

Time and time again, the barrister had gone back to the expert witness asking him to change his report explaining that it wouldn’t look good on the post office. “Please rephrase, this will be taken as damaging concession” he said. The expert witness changed his report and is so doing altered his findings and recommendations.

When interviewed, the Barrister, Warwick Tatford admitted that what he had done was wrong, and that he had over reached and gone beyond the scope of his role. Surely it shouldn’t take an investigation to make you realise that you’re not acting with integrity and within ethical guidelines.

if you’re an expert witness what has your experience been? Obviously, I do not expect you all to respond here to these questions, but more just to reflect on the issues.

When a Barrister asks you to rephrase or reword parts of your report, does this fully change what you’re saying so that it looks better for “your side”? Are there sides or are you truly independent?

In writing this I am reminded of my time within local authorities, where psychologist and other professionals are regularly required to reword their reports as a way of, minimising the amount that the local authority will have to spend in terms of resources related to the case. I have always been uncomfortable with this practice as it fails to put the child at the centre and places more of an emphasis on the local authority’s, budget and resources. yet all the while local authorities will claim that their education psychologist are truly independent of them.

BBC News reported that the amendments made by the Post office expert witness should have been declared to the defence.

Does this happen in the cases you have worked on?

Parents out there, wouldn’t it be great if we could see some of the exchanges of emails and amendments to Educational psychologists reports following requests by SEND managers, and Heads of service!

To all Expert Witnesses out there (and this includes LA educational psychologists who if cases go to SEND Tribunal become expert witnesses for the Defence) we need to keep ethics- integrity and honesty at the forefront of all work we do. As an expert witness, you are always asked to include a Statement of Truth which speaks to your independence as an expert/psychologist. It is so important that this statement of truth is exactly that and that it is not just a performative statement, but actually a meaningful statement which we live up to as expert witnesses.

Check out my book: Understanding and Dealing with Racism- The Six Stages Framework.

Check out my article: If racism was a virus….

Check out my free seminars on Eventbrite

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