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What is an expert witness?

“[A] witness in a court of law who is an expert on a particular subject”. This is the short answer courtesy of the Merriam-Webster definition of an expert witness.

There is no exact rule on who can and cannot be an expert witness. While practical experience can be enough, most often an expert witness has formal education and expertise in the area they are to speak on. He or she presents an expert opinion without having been a witness to any occurrence relating to the lawsuit or criminal case.

An expert witness is to give to the court or tribunal an impartial opinion on aspects of matters within his or her area of expertise that is in dispute.

Where it gets tricky is that while an expert witness is not to assist in the formulation and preparation of a party’s claim or defence, yet an expert witness does not have an overriding duty to the court but to the party instructing him.

Experts are usually paid for their services and the opposition may ask them about the amount they are receiving for their work on the case. In most jurisdictions, both sides must exchange the names and addresses of proposed experts prior to depositions.

It can be a little different depending on the country. For example, in England & Wales, the court gives permission for an expert witness to give evidence. A person is accepted by the judge as an expert by some combination of education, training, certification, skills or experience.

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