Many Members or Associates of ITAI will recall and may have even registered with the RFP (Register of Forensic practitioners). The basic premise of such a register was to remove the guesswork as to the quality of expert witness on offer. Those forensic practitioners who decided there was value in registering with the RFP, had to prove the scientific authenticity of their investigative approach, enough to satisfy a scrutinizing panel.
Changes in central Government expenditure and dwindling political incentive, led to the demise of this system of quality assurance. Theoretically, there should be no need to maintain a forensic practitioners list given that market forces ought inevitably to sort the wheat from the chaff. Never the less for some time solicitors were able to instruct their preferred experts in legally aided criminal cases under the guidelines of LSC funding and a fragile harmony prevailed, at least for a while…
Right up to the point that is where political clamour to reduce the bill for our legal system enjoyed a resurgence. Naturally around this time several training houses were offering impossibly short duration courses, purporting to equip all comers with the necessary skills to act as an expert witness and sadly our chosen field of expertise did not escape their attention. We now find ourselves competing for business with some “instant experts” who are quite happy to undercut the market rate (and LSC guidelines) in order to build experience and a collision investigator’s portfolio.
Interestingly, we at Wayman’s have frequently seen business come back to the genuinely accredited market when these “instant experts” make a predictable hash of things. More and more solicitors are asking us, and too frequently at the very last minute, to pick up the pieces of jobs that were initially entrusted to these charlatans. The irony of this is of course that, in an effort to reduce expenditure, the legal system has become hamstrung, in terms of the quality of expert assistance and expert cost in the long run has actually increased.
Clearly there is no appetite in Government to re-establish a Register of Forensic Practitioners, but there is a requirement for some form of quality assurance. As an objective bystander, just why ITAI has not stepped up to this problem in the interests of it’s members baffles me. Whilst the separate factions within ITAI’s membership have been squabbling (not always discretely) about the worth, or not, of one or other member’s background, this spectre is looming over the industry uncontrolled.
I often discuss with my experts the purpose of ITAI. The accreditation system for Membership is the perfect nucleus of a proper register. However, it is all very well slapping each other on the back and telling each other how good you all are, but that will not pay a salary or a fee! What is vitally needed is for our clients to be able to recognise immediately the difference between genuinely qualified, appropriately experienced and thoroughly competent experts who are ITAI members and those who have not the qualification, experience, competence or membership. Does ITAI not have the appetite to achieve this?
It continually surprises me that my experts pay ITAI membership fees year after year yet apparently receive no active ITAI marketing of their services and little or no representation to the legal industry. It is surely time that ITAI approached this responsibility more seriously. The very least that should be done is an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the legal community to explain the reassurance a lawyer has when appointing an ITAI member rather than a non member.
This is just a start though. Clearly there is a commercial opportunity here. Engineering firms strive for ISO 9001 accreditation, law firms for LExcel and forensic experts? By gaining the confidence of the customers we serve, we could represent our peers successfully whilst undermining the pseudo experts that betray our skills in the marketplace. Once credibility of the representative body has been achieved, there is no reason why the model cannot be commuted to all areas of forensic expertise. Thus we reach the point we started at, a fully credible list of forensic experts, only privately run rather than publicly. More importantly though, it means we are competing on a level playing field, being remunerated correctly for the skills it has taken so long to achieve, either through academia or practical training and field experience.
For my part in this I have to reveal my hand. I am not a forensic collision investigator, nor am I a forensic vehicle examiner. I am however, directly affected by the current state of the marketplace for expert witnesses. I may have made suggestions in this article that are already being progressed, but I make these points to stimulate debate. If opinion is strong enough there may be value in establishing a LinkedIn group, which may even become the origin of a register that commands confidence. In the meantime I will post this blog on my company website which has the facility for comments open for all to read. I am contactable through my email at firstname.lastname@example.org and welcome any ITAI member’s constructive opinion and debate. If nothing else I hope to galvanise action to protect the interests of ITAI member experts who have trained, studied and practiced enough to truly earn their “Expert” status.