- The Expert and the Court
- March 28, 2014 | Author: Dominique Vallières
- Law Firm: Lavery, de Billy, L.L.P. - Montreal Office
In the context of litigation, lawyers frequently require the testimony of experts, particularly accountants. Well presented, this evidence may have a decisive influence on the outcome of a trial. In the contrary situation, a debate on the quality of the expert or the weight to be given to his or her testimony may occur. This is why we review in this bulletin the role, qualification and credibility of the expert.
THE ROLE OF THE EXPERT
The role of the expert is to express an opinion based on his or her scientific, economic or other knowledge, which exceeds that of the judge and without which it is impossible to draw from the facts the correct conclusions. In other words, when the judge is able by himself to understand the facts and draw the correct inferences, an expert is neither necessary nor admissible. For example, the calculation of the gross profits from a contract, which only constitute a mathematical operation, will not require a particular expertise and an accountant called upon to testify on that matter will be at best considered as an ordinary witness. The role of the expert is to enlighten the Court in as objective or impartial a manner as possible.
THE QUALIFICATION OF THE EXPERT
To express his or her opinion, the expert must first be recognized as such by the Court. The expert will therefore be first examined respecting his or her training and experience. If the expert qualification is contested, and the Court considers that the expert is insufficiently qualified, it may refuse to hear him or her. The qualifications of the expert must be related to the matters about which he or she testifies.
The training of the witness and his or her practical experience, will be considered. Although either may be enough, a really convincing expert will generally have solid training and experience, failing which, even if the Court accepts to hear him or her, less weight may be given to his or her testimony.
THE WEIGHT GIVEN TO HIS OR HER OPINION
As is the case with any other witness, the Court will have to assess the credibility of the expert, particularly in the presence of contradictory opinions. The Court may review the seriousness of the steps taken by the experts. It will give more weight to the opinion of a witness who directly noted the facts and reviewed the data than to the opinion of another witness who only relied on what he or she has been told. A mostly theoretical opinion or an opinion which only describes principles will also be given less weight. It is important for the witness to explain why the particular facts of the case allow for drawing a particular conclusion. Furthermore, in the presence of diverging schools of thought on a particular item, the Court appreciates that the expert considers them and explains why one should be favoured over the other in the situation at hand. Dogmatism, the absence of justification and the out of hand dismissal of a recognized approach will also generally be negatively perceived.
This is consistent with the very basis of the role of the expert, which is to impartially and objectively enlighten the Court. The Court will want to ensure that the expert keeps the required distance and independence to issue a credible opinion. If the Court perceives that the expert is taking sides or “pleads the case” of the party who retained his or her services, his or her credibility will suffer. Thus, even though it is admissible, the testimony of the expert and his or her conduct will be more closely scrutinized if it is demonstrated, for instance, that he or she is employed by a party or expressed in the past an opinion on similar issues.
Although this situation is rarer, the Court could even refuse to hear the witness if it is convinced that he or she will be unable to be impartial. Such may be the case when the expert personally advocates in favour of the position defended by a party or the fact that he or she was personally involved in similar litigation. The animosity or the closeness which may exist between the expert and a party may also negatively affect the expert. In this respect, it is important for the expert to be transparent to the party who retains his or her services.
The really useful expert is the one whose conduct may be summarized by these three words: competence, thoroughness and objectivity.