17 September 2019

PRESS RELEASE: Court warns expert evidence must rely on facts over feelings

The Federal Court has warned expert witnesses who are under-prepared or “unscientific” will significantly undermine the reliability of their evidence.

In a recently released judgment, Justice Steven Rares raised concerns with one expert’s testimony in a  property dispute where both parties had engaged valuation professionals.

Bartier Perry Partner Gavin Stuart, who acted in the matter, said with expert witnesses playing an increasingly important role in shaping the outcome of complex disputes, the court’s comments were a reminder of their obligations.

“Justice Rares noted that while one valuation expert set out their career experience in some detail, he was unable to determine if the other had even qualified in Australia,” said Mr Stuart.

Justice Rares also wrote that one of the expert’s inspection of a property had consisted of her standing on the street outside the property and apparently being “able to determine from my brain” and “my own knowledge,” complex technical details relating to the house.

That expert also provided conclusions and opinions that were contrary to the agreed facts of the case.

In his judgment Justice Rares said the expert’s evidence was, “unscientific, at times prone to exaggeration and unpersuasive.”

“This is a timely reminder for experts and those that engage them, that the Court expects the utmost care and skill to be applied when forming an opinion and giving evidence during the course of proceedings, whether that be through the provision of a report or providing oral testimony,” said Mr Stuart.

“There are relevant expert witness codes that must be complied with in preparing expert evidence but this judgment gives an interesting insight as to how the Federal Court will weigh the reliability of the expert giving that evidence,” he said.