A Day in the Life of an Expert Witness

Being a Facial Comparison Expert, my role requires me to attend Criminal Proceedings at Crown and Magistrate Courts nationwide, to present Expert Evidence. At the peak of the global pandemic the world changed and forced everybody into lockdown, subsequently requiring us all to adhere to strict social distancing. We became socially adjusted to the mandatory use of face masks in all public settings. Whilst I gave evidence over a secure web-link in May, I was required to physically attend a Government department-lead trial in the North West during October 2020.

I am usually given a few months notice as a period of court warning, although for many urgent cases, this may be reduced to a matter of weeks. As an independent expert the prosecution or defence, can call me to provide oral evidence in court and subject to no other clashes of court dates I confirm my attendance.

The day before my court attendance, I prepare my case folder ensuring I have a hard copy of my report, case notes and any additional information I may need, including contact information for the client. There’s nothing worse than going into a court building and not knowing whom you are meant to meet. Especially if you are working on a defence case on behalf of a consultancy agency and you’ve had very limited contact with the Solicitor!

Subject to the location of my travel (England, Wales, Scotland or Republic of Ireland) my day begins at 5am. However, depending on the time that I am requested to attend court (specifically early morning) and subject to the location, I will usually stay overnight at a conveniently located hotel. On 12th October my day began at 5am, I woke up with slight nervousness (expectedly- given that nobody ever knows how their day in court will go), I confidently dressed myself and ensured I had all my travel essentials (Laptop, case folder, water bottle, hand sanitiser, compact mirror, lip balm (first world issues) headphones and chargers), I made my way to the local train station.

I prefer a train journey to morning traffic jams and potential parking stress, since I have the chance to purchase my breakfast (sometimes Greggs is as good as it gets!). Once I’ve boarded the train I strangely become calm and this may be down to the ‘anxiolytic’ effect the café latte has on me (which thankfully isn’t “out of use”).

Empty train carriage equals a shameless coffee photo opportunity. I’m smiling I swear!

After a journey of approximately 1 and half hours, I arrived in a city in the North West and waited for my booked taxi. Given the new norm of wearing a face covering, I allowed myself a short break before putting on my mask when entering the taxi.

The Lowry Theatre is a beautiful building at Salford Quays, repurposed by the Ministry of Justice to assist in tackling the delayed court system due to the ongoing pandemic.

Subject to all the relevant security checks I was allowed to enter the building transitioning from the Lowry Theatre to Nightingale Court. When it came to the time of giving evidence, the recently converted theatre was not short of grandeur. Forgetting for a moment that I was giving expert evidence inside a theatre hall, I was taken aback by how “court like” the entire process still was. After approximately an hour and half my evidence was concluded (including cross examination); I was thanked by the Counsel and Judge and allowed to stand down. As I made my way to the public area, I took the opportunity of clicking a selfie of the new normal - a masked face not used for disguise but instead, to keep safe!

Posted by Dr. Shelina Jilani

April 2021

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