Dr Pamplin, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how the the UK Register of Expert Witnesses (www.jspubs.com) came into being?
I am a geologist by training, but as I did my PhD back in the 1980s I got involved in the early days of main-stream personal computing, and my true skill base lies more in getting computers to do the work of lots of people rather than anything rock related. That has the very agreeable side effect of leaving geology as a hobby rather than a job!
The UK Register of Expert Witnesses grew out of an internal ‘database’ project in my father’s legal practice in Chorley. I was finishing off my PhD and wanted to travel around Australia whilst my old man thought that his list of experts probably had some commercial potential. He agreed to fund my excursion down under if I spend a year on his project when I came back. As I sit here 22 years later, I think I won on both fronts!I quickly realised that this list of experts idea was amenable to my computing skills and it was the melding of the original idea with my skill base that helped to grow the Register so quickly in the early years. Mind you, the Register has long ceased to be a directory publishing business. We spend most of our time now on the wealth of information flows we offer to the expert witnesses in the Register that help them to understand their role and function, the rules that govern their forensic work and how to protect their own interests whilst fully complying with their duties to the court, their profession, those who instruct them and those who pay them.
What does the UK Register of Expert Witnesses offer and to whom? How does it differ from other, similar registers in the UK?
The Register offers top-notch marketing for expert witnesses. But, whilst it is widely used by lawyers across the UK looking for expert witnesses (4,000 printed Registers are distributed each year) we are clear that most lawyers will only turn to a directory as a last resort. It is no different to you looking for a good plumber: one you know, one your mate knows, one who is recommended by an independent trade body – all are preferable to one you pick out of Yellow Pages. The Register is really not much different, but our basic vetting procedure does offer lawyers a bit of reassurance that an expert witness new to them is at least not new to the forensic world.
But, the reason so many expert witnesses stay with us year after year is that we add a whole layer of support and guidance on top of the marketing. That is what makes us different from the other, notationally similar, directories of experts. We are not just a publishing house putting out yet another book, we are a small team of people dedicated to building lasting relationships with expert witnesses and we bring to that task a broad and deep understanding of the expert witness arena.
How much demand do you find there is from lawyers looking for computer forensics experts? Is this demand met? Have you noticed any trends?
Because we don’t put ourselves between the expert witnesses and those who instruct them, it is actually quite difficult for us to monitor demands in the sort of detail that would be needed to answer this question.
Can you tell us something about the number of computer forensics expert witnesses on the register and the rate at which that number is growing?
In 2003 we had 108 expert witnesses covering 1,418 separate areas of expertise dealing with aspects of computer forensics. In 2006 these numbers had grown to 130 and 1,850 respectively, and in the latest edition 22 of the Register we have 162 expert witnesses dealing with over 2,250 separate areas of computer forensics.
So, we have seen a steady growth in this area and, as computers continue to embed themselves in the very fabric of our modern society, I would expect to see this growth trend continue. It is just a shame it follows an arithmetic growth law rather than Moore’s law!
The register offers an independent vetting procedure – how does that work?
From its beginnings in 1988, the UK Register of Expert Witnesses has objectively checked the witness part of the expert witness equation for applicants. On receipt of an expert application:
– We contact instructing lawyers requesting an opinion as to their satisfaction with the expert concerned in a number of work categories – civil, criminal, SJE, report writing, courtroom skills (oral evidence and cross-examination).
– If the legal professional feels able to make a recommendation of the expert to legal colleagues in general, then the expert is eligible for inclusion as a vetted expert witness.
Once experts have successfully gained entry into the Register as a vetted expert witness, they have the option to undertake periodic re-vetting, which enables experts to subject themselves to periodic review by instructing lawyers. It is a voluntary process.
Until 2007, every expert in the Register was vetted. But, in order to allow experts who where getting started in forensic work to use the Register’s marketing and support, we introduced the un-vetted category of entry. Around 8% of the expert witnesses in the current edition of the Register are un-vetted.
What would you most like to see changed or improved in the expert witness field in the UK?
I would like to see the quality of instructions given to expert witnesses improve, the criminal court to stop treating science as if it can provide certainty and for every single expert witness to write and use written terms of engagement – you wouldn’t believe how often experts get into difficulties because they haven’t got this basic contractual step right!
What is the most rewarding part of running the UK Register of Expert Witnesses? What aspect do you find most challenging?
The answer is the same for both questions – the conversations I have with experts from all disciplines. These form the foundation of my competency in respect of practical expert witness matters. Without them, the Register’s ability to help the expert witness community would be severely reduced.
What do you do to relax and unwind?
Spend time with my young family.
Chris, thank you very much for your time!
Chris can be contacted as follows:
Dr Chris Pamplin
Editor – UK Register of Expert Witnesses
P O Box 505