By arboricultural consultant and accredited expert witness Mark Chester of Cedarwood Tree Care.
In arboriculture and other land-based subjects, the role of the expert witness is unregulated. As such, people can present themselves as experts and present their ‘expert opinion’ when it is not. One party can present their case with confidence based on the opinion of their ‘expert’. Delve below the surface and sometimes the credentials can unravel rather quickly.
I have encountered ‘specialists’ with no formal qualifications, those with expertise in other fields, such as forestry or ecology, and even those whose skills are the ability to handle tools and provide gardening services. Why does this matter? It can slow the progress of a claim and give one party unrealistic confidence in the merits of their case. If a case goes to court, the judge will be considering the merits of each expert and their evidence.
I have known several cases where one of the experts lacked a real appreciation of their role and their evidence was dismissed - surely one of the most chastening of experiences. The more informed expert is aware that their duty is to the court. Sometimes, when I have been at the Meeting of Experts, I have wondered to what degree this has been appreciated, as opinion is expressed which is not neutral. The duty to the court is beyond ‘telling the truth’; my role is to ensure that the court is informed on all issues within my expertise. I am not there on behalf of my client. I am also not there to provide a character reference but to appraise the evidence.
Sometimes, as experts, we need to comment on areas outside our specialism. For me, this includes weather, and specifically windy conditions. One associate shared with me that they considered the failure of a tree was due to the stormy weather of the day of the accident. This is fine in itself, but ‘storm’ is a specific meteorological term which may not accurately reflect the situation. When I deal with such cases, I check the Beaufort Scale for terminology.
When the expert is not as informed as they consider themselves to be, it can result in evidence being incorrectly evaluated. In one case, the defendant confidently presented their expert assured that the trees within the site were safe. I walked the site making a list of the safety issues, including a damaged tree which remained in its damaged condition months after the accident. Settlement swiftly followed!
I have training in arboriculture and horticulture. I deal with boundary issues, but not conveyancy work. I am a chartered professional within my fields and trained to the Bond Solon qualification. My clients can therefore have confidence in my opinion.
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