Draft bill for changing the law on expert witnesses
The draft bill of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection for changing the law on expert witnesses is now available. The background was that the independence and neutrality of court-appointed expert witnesses has recently been questioned in individual cases by citizens as well as in media coverage. In addition, there was criticism that expert witness opinions were sometimes lacking in quality. This was said to be partly due in some cases to the flawed selection of the expert witness by the courts, for example for medical opinions. In its coalition agreement, the governing coalition therefore set itself the goal of ensuring the neutrality of court-appointed expert witnesses as well as improving the quality of expert witness opinions over the 18th legislative period. Greater transparency in the court selection process was to improve confidence in the independence and neutrality of expert witnesses and would ensure that the courts appoint qualified expert witnesses.
The draft proposes strengthening the participation rights of the parties during the selection of expert witnesses and creating the broadest possible basis for decision-making by the court by making an obligatory hearing of the parties or those involved prior to appointing an expert witness an explicit legal requirement.
Additionally, in order to ensure neutrality, the expert witness is obliged to immediately consider whether there are grounds that would justify a lack of confidence of his/her impartiality and to inform the court about these immediately.
It is further proposed that the court will be required to impose a deadline for the production of their opinion on expert witnesses, and violations can in future lead to the imposition of a fine of up to EUR 5,000.