What is medico-legal work?
Medico-legal work covers:
- written reports for court
- attendance at court (as a witness)
- attendance at conferences with counsel or other legal professions
You may be asked to undertake this work providing one of the following:
- fact – as an ordinary witness. Doctors acting in this capacity do so as members of the public. You can only claim out-of-pocket expenses for court attendance and may be summoned to attend court
- medical fact – as a professional witness giving evidence from knowledge obtained in a professional capacity, and whose evidence is confined to matters of fact (e.g. doctor giving evidence on treatment given to the subject of the proceedings)
- medical opinion – as an expert witness appointed by one side or the other to interpret the facts using clinical expertise (usually a consultant or other specialist).
Can I charge a fee?
The fee amount you will receive for medico-legal work will depend on who is requesting the information and in what capacity they are asking you for this. Here are some of the fees listed for this work.
The fees paid by the CPS to professional witnesses and ordinary witnesses are fixed. As an expert witness, you can choose whether to accept the work. The CPS has issued guidance covering the rates it will pay in the majority of cases however you may be able to negotiate a higher fee if there is relevant justification related to the expertise needed rather than the individual’s personal qualifications.
It is CPS policy to contact an expert witness in advance of the hearing in order to agree a fee. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, especially when hearings are listed at short notice. It is advisable, therefore, for doctors to contact the relevant CPS office in order to seek agreement on fees both for attendance at court and for any necessary preparation.
When called by the defence, a witness enters into a contract with the solicitor.
However, the solicitor will seek to pay similar fees to the CPS because in the event of costs being awarded, (either through legal aid or as a result of winning the case), the costs allowed will be limited to the amount which the LCD thinks is reasonable.
Nonetheless, doctors may wish to take account of their own private rate when proposing fees to solicitors. However, the scope for use of such fees in criminal cases is limited; nearly all cases are legally aided and very few are brought as a result of a private prosecution.
Legal aid expert witness fees in England and Wales
Fees for civil cases
In all civil cases the doctor's contract is with the solicitor and, as in criminal cases, a potential expert witness can choose whether or not to become involved and may stipulate terms relating to the fee.
Except in legal aid cases, the general rule is that solicitors are personally responsible for the payment of fees for work requested by them: whether or not they receive payment from the client; whether or not the client wins the case; and whether or not the costs recovered from the other side cover the full cost of the case.
Payment should ordinarily be made in the normal course of business, not at the conclusion of the case.
The guide states that 'unless there is an agreement to the contrary, a solicitor is personally responsible for paying the proper costs of any professional agent or other person whom he instructs on behalf of his client, whether or not he receives payment by his client'. This principle applies to report fees and other qualifying work, as well as witness expenses.
Witness fees in Scotland
Fees and guidance for witnesses in Scotland:
Witness fees in Northern Ireland
Fees and guidance for witnesses in Northern Ireland: