Dr Asef Zafar, the General Practitioner acting as a medical expert in the case of Liverpool Victoria Insurance Company v Khan and others  was convicted of contempt of court and has now been struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council (GMC).
The initial decision of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal (MPT) had been only to suspend Dr Zafar, but the GMC appealed. The s40A Panel determined an appeal to be necessary because, in their opinion, the MPT had “failed to reflect the true seriousness of Dr Zafar’s conduct.” As a result of the appeal, Dr Zafar has been struck off, thus preventing him from undertaking any medicolegal work, including writing reports or giving evidence in court.
This is a salutary reminder to those acting as an expert witness that failure to prepare a careful and complete report, that meets the standards of the Civil Procedure Rules, can have serious consequences.
During the case, there were several allegations made against Dr Zafar. He is said to have earned around £350,000 a year from his expert witness efforts. He reportedly accomplished this by only spending 15 minutes to examine a patient and write a report—sometimes producing as many as 32 reports in one day.
The doctor’s irregular practices were uncovered when one of his original reports was accidentally sent along with an altered version of the same report to the defendant insurance company by his instructing party. The second report showed significant alterations to Dr Zafar’s determination of the seriousness of the diagnosed injuries. He further compounded this error by preparing a number of contradictory witness statements when the insurance company questioned the reasons for the changes in the report.
The lesson for an expert witness is clear: while the financial rewards of preparing a report are welcome, not understanding that this venture requires significant care, especially when one has to sign a statement of truth, may result in severe repercussions.
As I have made clear before, running a medicolegal practice requires perspicacity as well as explicit awareness of the limits of one’s expertise and ability. It is not in the expert’s best interest to take on cases for which they do not feel they are well-suited or to which they are not prepared to dedicate the required time and attention.
Therefore, undertaking low cost but high-volume reporting may be less advantageous than doing fewer reports to a higher standard and therefore at a proportionately higher cost. At the same time, it is important to recognize that some of the changes in fixed costs for cases has put pressure on all aspects of the judicial process, which may give rise to compromises being made to meet to the cost implications.
This case emphasises that serving as an expert witness requires both dedication and a solid understanding of the responsibilities that come with it. It is important to remember that an expert witness’s responsibility lies first and foremost with the court. This responsibility to the court must override the responsibility to the client or the instructing party, otherwise any of the expert’s determinations can be called into question.
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