The provision of reliable, objective and clearly understood expert evidence and testimonies is paramount to the cause of justice, especially when critical facts and the case outcome hinge largely on forensic evidence. As Singapore strives to become an international hub for commercial dispute resolution, championing effective court systems and efficient processes, innovative approaches to providing expert evidence are fast-tracked to centre stage in our mediation, arbitration and court proceedings.
No matter which approach is adopted, the expert’s overriding duty remains the same – to the Court. It is also the expert’s responsibility to adapt to the changing landscape, keep abreast of developments, and to prepare and be ready to meet the requirements accompanying these new approaches.
In our adversarial system, when expert evidence is tendered in contested proceedings, each party calls upon their own expert witness to give evidence. Turn by turn, the evidence of each expert is presented and scrutinised as a “whole”, during examination-in-chief, followed by cross-examination, thus exercising the traditional common law method to test the evidence.
Providing concurrent expert evidence (“Hot Tubbing”)
The concurrent provision of expert testimony – often dubbed “hot-tubbing” is touted as an efficient and effective way to present complex expert issues. Both expert witnesses sit together in the witness box and provide their testimonies and address the same issue at the same time. The Judge or lawyers from both parties often question the witnesses directly, engaging in a direct dialogue concomitantly with the experts. Although this approach of providing concurrent expert evidence had its origins in the Australian courts way back in the 1970s, it is relatively new in many jurisdictions, and only recently gained traction locally and in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
Providing expert evidence as a Single Joint Expert (SJE)
In 2018, Singaporeans were invited to comment on Civil Justice reform agendas concerning the use of Single Joint Experts (SJEs). Under Chapter 9, Rule 3(1), it was proposed: “Except in a special case and with the Court’s approval, the parties shall agree on one common expert”. Currently, the approach of engaging SJEs appears to be more commonly employed in areas where there is a substantially established area of knowledge and where it is not necessary for the court to directly sample a range of opinions.
Enhancing expert testimonies for forensic science
In a nutshell, the presentation and evaluation of forensic evidence in Court has evolved over time and will continue to do so. No system is perfect; each approach has its fair share of benefits and challenges. TFEG experts have been appointed as Single Joint Experts (SJE); we also had opportunities to provide concurrent evidence (“hot-tubbing”) in civil proceedings. As experts, we continue to glean new insights on each model and adapt to improve on our preparation and delivery of expert testimony.