Professional witnesses give medical evidence based on action taken in a professional capacity, based on clinical information on their own patients.
Expert witnesses may be called to give an expert opinion or advice in their own specialist field.
The Coroners Allowances, Fees and Expenses Regulations 2013 stipulate doctors may claim the following:
This is paid to a suitable pathologist, juror, or witness who is necessarily absent from his or her place of residence overnight for the purposes of serving at or attending an inquest hearing shall be paid up to a maximum allowance per night of:
|Within a 5 mile radius of Charing Cross||£100.70|
|Elsewhere in England and Wales||£69.20|
(1) A suitable practitioner (pathologist), juror or witness shall have his or her travel expenses reimbursed as follows:
(a) where travel is by public transport the coroner may reimburse the actual fare paid (in the case of rail or air, the economy fare only, unless the coroner otherwise directs)
(b) where travel is by taxi or other privately hired vehicle, such costs may only be reimbursed where the coroner believes that such transport was reasonable
(c) where travel is by private transport an allowance per mile, each way may be paid as follows:
|Car or motorbike transport rate||25p|
|Car or motorbike standard rate||45p|
(2) Public transport rate must be paid unless the coroner is satisfied that no adequate public transport was available on the date on which the journey was made.
(3) Any parking fees reasonably incurred may be reimbursed.
(4) The allowances set out in paragraph (1) for car travel, may be increased by 2p per mile each way if a passenger is carried to whom an allowance would otherwise have been payable for travel to and from an inquest, and by an additional 1p per mile for any further additional passenger so carried.
Professional witness allowance
(5) If the professional witness does not employ a person to take care of his or her practice during his or her whilst attending an inquest hearing to give evidence, he or she shall be paid a maximum daily fee of:
|Up to and including 2 hours||£83.50|
|More than 2 hours up to and including 4 hours||£117|
|More than 4 hours up to and including 6 hours||£174|
|More than 6 hours||£234|
|Or: If the professional witness necessarily incurs expense in the provision of a person to take care of his or her practice during his or her absence:|
|Up to and including 2 hours||£89|
|More than 2 hours up to and including 4 hours||£125|
|More than 4 hours||£250|
Expert witness fees
Doctors who give evidence as expert witnesses should determine their own private rate and how long the work should take to do.
The rate needs to include costs associated with attending the inquest and any preparatory work reasonably incurred that is directly related to giving evidence at the inquest.
This should be agreed with the coroner before undertaking the work.
When agreeing a fee, the coroner is expected to take in consideration the nature and complexity of the evidence provided by the expert witness.
The Coroners Allowances, Fees and Expenses Regulations 2013 set out the following fees for undertaking a post-mortem:
|For making a post-mortem examination and reporting the result to the coroner||£96.80|
|For making a post-mortem examination involving additional skills and reporting the result to the coroner (see below)||£276.90|
Cases requiring additional skills
These are usually cases involving suspected homicide, road or other accidents likely to lead to serious charges, deaths during anaesthesia and deaths involving allegations against the medical profession or another third party.
Criteria that distinguish this type of examination from those in 'routine' cases are:
- Added responsibility carried by the pathologist e.g. in relation to possible criminal proceedings arising from his or her findings.
- Frequent need for the pathologist to travel long distances at any time of the day or night at short notice, to make preliminary examination of the body, and to wait while photographs are taken before the body can be removed to the mortuary for the autopsy.
- Need for special tests involving liaison with, for example, bacteriologists. As a consequence of the protraction of the investigation the pathologist may suffer a loss of other work.
But the decision as to whether a particular case is potentially one requiring a post-mortem examination involving additional skills, must be a matter for the coroner's discretion.
BMA position on non-payment of coroners' fees
Doctors have raised concerns with the BMA about not being paid for coroner reports or statements of fact which they are obliged to provide. Under the current system the coroner pays then reclaims funds from the local authority.
Although we have sought legal advice, there is nothing within the Coroners Act that clearly stipulates payments for reports or statements of fact. We therefore have no grounds to force the local authority or coroner to pay the fee.
We have also rigorously pursued this issue directly with the Chief Coroner, the Ministry of Justice and the Local Government Association, but with little success.
Where payment is not being offered, the BMA would advise doctors to complete the report otherwise they may face being summonsed.
Regulation 28/29 and the doctor and coroner relationship
It should be noted that coroners can request action from individuals and organisations where the coroner believes the action will reduce the risk of further deaths. This is under schedule 5 paragraph 7 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and Regulation 28 and 29 of the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013.
Whilst coroners do not have legal authority outside of Regulation 28 requests, some GPs have expressed concern about a potential GMC referral. Doctors should not have to deal with these types of pressures and tactics. Should a GP feel that they may be under this form of pressure they should contact the BMA and we will address it with the senior coroner.
Guidance for consultants and SAS doctors
Although the Terms and Conditions of Service (schedules 10 and 11) stipulates what should happen if the fee is available, the contract is between the doctor and the employer and not the doctor and the local authority.
Where consultants or SAS doctors are currently completing coroners’ reports within their spare time, the BMA would advise doctors to add the work to their programmed activities when job planning.