The Ministry of Justice, World Bank and Multi Donor Trust Fund for Justice Sector Support in Serbia organized a conference regarding the role of expert witnesses in the judicial system and the changes which should be taken in order to improve the Law on Expert Witness. The expert witness has a key role in proceedings when specialized facts and complex issues should be analyzed. Therefore, the World Bank conducted a detailed analysis in order to determine the weaknesses and problems that the courts, litigation parties and expert witnesses are facing every day.
The collected data showed that:
- Despite the fact that there are more than 5,000 expert witnesses inscribed in the register, in practice there is a deficiency of high quality experts needed for trials – in another words, the appointment into the expert witness profession does not correspond to the real needs of the courts and experts do not have any trainings nor duties to update their knowledge, which affects the quality of their expertise;
- Experienced expert witnesses are more frequently and repeatedly engaged than others by courts which leads to the overburdening of those experts with work and delays in providing the expertise;
- One third of all postponements is related to a breach of deadline for submitting the expertise – it is common practice for expert witnesses to submit their opinion at the hearing, or the payment of expert fees, absence of the expert witness from the hearing etc;
- Judges are not using the available tools to provide that the expertise is submitted the timeframe proscribed in the laws, such as setting the exact date for the submission of the expertise or for imposing monetary fines;
- Judges often give unclear instructions – ones that are too broad or not precise enough;
- Judges do not have adequate capacities to review the expertise; and,
- Judges often request from expert witnesses to answer concerning legal matters but not to establish the matters of facts.
Having in mind the problems recognized in practice, it was concluded that the Law on Expert Witness needs to be amended in a way as to improve the expert witness' role in the proceedings – which should lead to more efficiency in trials.
The suggested changes are:
- The introduction of trainings for expert witnesses, in order to improve the quality of their work, as well as training for judges for some of the most common expertise;
- The appointment of the expert witness should be organized to connect the real need for expertise and the available supply of experts, including setting out clear and transparent rules for the appointment of the expert witness;
- Managing expert witness' work by courts is key for the efficiency of trials, and the courts should also be supported to dismiss requests for expert witness expertise when they are unnecessary;
- Expert witnesses should engage the trainees who will be trained to become expert witnesses and whose engagement would contribute to the distribution of work into phases (collecting the relevant facts could be done by trainees, while providing the opinion could be done by expert witnesses);
- The parties should further utilize the possibility of engaging new expert witnesses in order to dispute and challenge the submitted expertise or to prepare new expertise.
However, it appears that we shall have to wait for the new Law on Expert Witnesses to bring us a resolution on these matters.